Endangered but Not Too Late: The State of Digital News Preservation

For comment, please contact Edward McCain (mccaine@rjionline.org), Digital Curator of Journalism

It’s no headline that newsrooms across the country today are struggling to survive, battered by multiple economic forces, the manic march of digital competition and technology, the storm of political attacks on their mission and in 2020 the sudden repercussions of an invisible pandemic predator. While these are well known across the news industry, one little-recognized, unlisted casualty of this struggle is the impact on an irreplaceable resource that citizens and researchers rely on: the public record of their communities as recorded by their local newspaper, radio or TV station, online newsroom or other news outlet.

The results of an 18-month long research investigation to discover how news organizations in the U.S, and Europe are preserving digital news and to identify best practices, problem areas and changes needed to avoid unintentional loss of content were released today in the report: Endangered but Not Too Late: The State of Digital News Preservation.

Leading a group of University of Missouri faculty researchers and industry experts on this project, Edward McCain, Digital Curator of Journalism from the University of Missouri Libraries and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and his team interviewed 115 individuals from 29 news organizations, four news technology companies, two news aggregators and five memory institutions, diving deeply into the technology used by these organizations in order to better understand how digital news content can be preserved.

What’s clear from this research is that the typical expectation of readers and the public, that news preservation is automatic in the digital age, simply isn’t correct. Chances are, in fact, that unless news organizations do something specific and intentional to preserve it, some or all of their born-digital content will be gone in a few years. It will no longer be accessible, readable, searchable or recoverable unless deliberate steps are taken to ensure it is.

Some of the findings:

Newsrooms save some but not all digital content
Saved content is mostly text, images, video
Public media have better resources, better archives
Internal use is primary, public access important but often outsourced
Top tech challenge is managing multiple digital channels
Web CMS is central, often doubles as archive
Some use asset systems as archives, others rely on web CMS
News metadata is often haphazard, inconsistent
System migrations often lead to lost content
Financial stress on news industry displaces preservation
Migration to digital publishing incomplete, can mean lost content
Relying solely on web CMS can be problematic for preservation
There’s often nobody left to mind the archive store
Good preservation is linked strongly to mission, policy, track record
Track record of preservation matters
Based on the findings, the report offers three levels of recommendations for news organizations to preserve their digital content, based on degree of difficulty or cost.

Immediate actions: Steps that can be taken now, at little or no cost, to begin the process of ensuring news content is preserved
Medium-term actions: Steps outlined in the report are actions that will take longer to accomplish and may involve investments in technologies, staff or funding
Industry-wide actions: Long-term steps that involve more than one newsroom pursuing solutions that involve policy changes, institutional partnerships, actions by industry sub-groups or news associations as well as some government actions
The Preserving Digital News Project was generously supported by the Andrew. W. Mellon Foundation

For more information about: Endangered but Not Too Late: The State of Digital News Preservation, visit https://www.rjionline.org/preservenews

SOURCE: University of Missouri Libraries & the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *