Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Dissolution of Newspapers

The Rocky Mountain News has closed (see link for outstanding photo coverage). Many more major newspapers around the country are dying - bleeding to death financially. It's not that people aren't reading the news, it's just they aren't reading it from paper anymore. The internet has changed everything, including how we get our news. This change in media has far reaching implications for those of us charged with preserving "newspapers".

First, there's saving the paper copies. We already know that we can't save the paper itself - too full of acid and not enough storage space. We generally preserve the content of the paper copies with microfilm. But microfilming operations are dying as fast as the newspaper publishers. Many no longer see the need for it, what with digital being the popular media. Forget that "digital preservation" is in it's infancy. We're just as likely to lose digital data because of some silly power outage as we are likely to have rain in spring.

Then there's what to do with newspapers that are all digital. Few people have the time or expertise to figure out how to harvest and save in perpetuity this digital content because, well, digital preservation is in its infancy.

What about those papers, rural papers for instance, that fall through the cracks - they're not going under and they don't have digital content. Without microfilming directives, who's saving that content?

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this last pontification. I don't care what your position is; for or against, low-level or high-level staff, researcher, archivist, historian, or newspaper enthusiast. I just want to know what you think.


  1. If newspapers are dying a slow (or perhaps, rapid) death, I think cultural institutions have an obligation to preserve their demise. As long as there is print on paper, I think we should preserve it on microfilm. Digital preservation is definitely in its infancy, and during these "tough economic times," it is going to be harder and harder to get the resources to grow and migrate our existing collections. Microfilm remains a good "once and for all" solution.

    And to go back to the newspapers themselves: as the first draft of history, they absolutely reflect the economic and social times. Is your newspaper getting smaller? Well, perhaps the publisher wants to economize. But also, perhaps the customers really only "look at the paper," they do not "read the columns" with the same gusto and respect as they did even 10 years ago. The ads are bigger? Much bigger? Why? Because the newspapers can't sell as much advertising as they used to, so they are giving away (practically) whole page ads to companies who pay less than they did for much smaller sale space.

    How does that reflect the times? Well, the Internet has scooped the news. If people can get the news for free on the Internet, why buy a subscription? Less money, less news, bigger ads. Perhaps, the millennial generation never learned to read an op/ed section anyway because Facebook or some website provides them with what they need to know---or, think they need to know.

    Trouble is that without news revenue, objective news journalism could be in jeopardy. Someone has to pay the foreign correspondents that travel the world to provide us with a context in which to understand our position as a person and a nation.

    Today, your newspaper reflects this demise. Fewer AP articles and less national sports coverage. Yes, even the sports sections are shrinking. I wonder as the elders in our society pass away, if that news will be reported on the internet only and the whole ritual of clipping obituaries will go the way of carpet beating.

    And so, for the reasons that the newspapers reflect these changes in our culture, I think that we should continue to preserve them as they were created until they cease altogether. To step away from that preservation mission at this point will be viewed as short-sighted by future researchers who will want to know what the final years of print journalism looked like.

  2. Thank you for doing this. Preserving history as it happened is a calling. Its nice to know someone cares enough to save these first drafts of history.