This research report looks at archiving practices and policies across newspapers, magazines, wire services, and digital-only news producers, to identify the current state of preserving content in an age of digital distribution. The majority of news outlets had not given any thought to even basic strategies for preserving their digital content, and not one was properly saving a holistic record of what it produces. Digitization and storage in a database are not alone adequate for long-term preservation. True archiving requires forethought and custodianship.
Staff equate digital backup and storage in Google Docs or content management systems with archiving, but they are not the same, and were unable to distinguish between backups and an archive. Backups are temporary copies for data recovery in case of damage or loss, while archiving refers to long-term preservation to ensure records will still be available even as technologies change in the future. They expect that other third-party organizations will have copies, such as the Internet Archive, Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Even if the IA has captured a website, what it collects may be limited to the first level of content and could exclude links, comments, personalized content, and different versions of a story.
There are news archiving technologies being developed; preserving digital content is not a technical challenge, but a matter of priority and a decision that demonstrates intent. The findings should be a wake-up call to an industry which claims that democracy cannot be sustained without journalism to be a truth and accountability watchdog. "In an era where journalism is already under attack, managing its record and future are as important as ever."
The news organizations are interested in the present: “Who cares what existed 10 years ago? I need my thing now. And so, for better, for worse, if there was some value in [archiving], I probably got a better value out of the new thing.” In short, newsrooms are doing very little to nothing to preserve digital news. And none of the content creators interviewed made an effort to download and preserve the stories they produced.
Deletion is the opposite side of preservation and "news organizations, in certain cases, actively remove content from the public record", which raises questions about the role of journalism in society.
Some key findings of the news organizations participating in the research:
- 19 of the 21 news organizations had no policies or practices for the preservation of their content. Of the 21 news organizations in our study, 19 were not taking any protective steps at all to archive their web output. The remaining two lacked formal preservation strategies.
- Of the 21 news organizations, only six employed news archivists or librarians and their other responsibilities, took the focus away from the work required for preservation.
- None of the digital-only outlets had a news librarian or archivist on staff.
- None of the news organizations were preserving their social media publications. Only one was attempting to address the problem.
- Digital-only news organizations were less aware than print publications of the importance of preservation. Very little is currently being done to preserve news.
- Journalism’s primary focus is on “what is new” and preserving documentation of their reporting and what makes it accurate than preserving what ultimately gets published.
- News apps are at high risk of being lost because these new technologies become obsolete before anyone thinks to save them.
- Partnerships among archivists, technologists, memory institutions, and news organizations will be vital to ensure future access to digitally distributed news content. Two questions to start with: What should be preserved? Who should preserve it?
- To enact lasting change, opinion leaders in the field must introduce to staff and management that archiving ideas make sense positions, it has advantages, and is compatible with their priorities.
News organizations should care about preserving news for the future just as they care about integrity, reliability, and informing the public not just in the present.