Can Tools That Archive Apps Preserve New Journalism?

Village Voice in Recycling
I recycled my copy of the last print issue of the Village Voice recently because I no longer have room in my “personal archive” (aka under the bed).

Standing over a hot grill during a Labor Day cook-out, a friend told me about his storage space. A few blocks from the one-bedroom apartment he rents with his photographer wife, in it he keeps off-season clothing and many of the records he collected during his days as a music journalist, while she stores the bulk of her work archives. As we topped hot dogs with mustard and relish, I asked if he kept any of his work there — clippings, copies of newspapers or magazines?

“Not a thing,” he said, and explained he has never kept a record of his work in any way, whether physical or digital copies. We shared worries that with the recent demise of the Village Voice, any record of writing we’d each done there might vanish completely, despite the owner’s promise of “a fully digitized Voice archive [that] will offer coming generations a chance to experience for themselves what is clearly one of this city’s and this country’s social and cultural treasures.” Some (but not all) of the paper’s archives have already been digitized, and the New York Public Library, for one, has hardcopies and copies on microfilm. But since ending its print publication last year, all writers publishing in the digital-only version suddenly joined the ranks of journalists whose work might disappear at a moment’s notice, whether because of link rot or fickle ownership.

While the Internet Archive (and plugins like Save My News that connect to the Internet Archive) provides resources for journalists to save their work, writers like my friend generally concentrate their energy producing stories, not ensuring those stories will be around for others to reference and learn from them in the future. Yes, the Internet Archive saves content from certain sites, but not all, and there are some complications with that as it is, like having to know the exact webpage and date of content you’re looking for.

A new project out of New York University may solve some of the problems in archiving news apps and connecting those archives to libraries. According to NiemanLab, a team has been adapting the open-source tool ReproZip, which they’re using to emulate (as opposed to migrate) digital objects like dynamic new apps to archive web pages as you’d have seen them the day they went live. They’re still working out some details, like where to store the frontend, but they’re hoping to launch this fall with the lofty goal of creating a system by which news organizations can compress their archives and then pass them along to libraries. Keep an eye on this project (follow the project leads on Twitter: Katherine Boss and Meredith Broussard), because if it works, we’ll have a great new tool for archiving digital content, which will help journalists like my non-archiving buddy, and those who are seeking his work in the future.

Originally written for INFO-654: Information Technologies, Pratt School of Information, Fall 2018.

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