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CRL Preservation Analysis of Electronic News

Bernard F. Reilly, Jr.
President, The Center for Research Libraries


During the print era, research libraries played an important role in preserving newspapers for scholarly research. Throughout its 60-plus year history CRL has focused many of its collecting and reformatting efforts on preserving published news for North American historians and scholars. Today, the combined CRL and the Library of Congress holdings of U.S. and foreign newspapers, in fact, represent the world’s largest aggregation of news reporting.

With the ascent of digital media as the locus of news publishing and distribution, newspaper publishers are reorienting their production and distribution methods from paper and printing to digital environments and platforms. Because the longstanding approach to news preservation is built around the print formats, these changes in the news industry present formidable preservation challenges. With these changes, traditional preservation models will unfortunately no longer ensure future access to a comprehensive journalistic record. Library action to prevent loss of this important class of historical evidence will have to be built around how news appearing in traditional and various digital platforms is sourced and reported, edited and processed, and distributed in various forms. Effective strategies for preserving news in the electronic environment must be based on an understanding of the “lifecycle” of news content.

Flow chart from the new CRL report, depicting “Lifecycle: Distribution (print).”

A new CRL report, Preserving News in the Digital Environment: Mapping the Newspaper Industry in Transition, produced for the Library of Congress Office of Strategic Initiatives, describes this lifecycle in detail. It examines news articles, advertising, sports and financial data, opinion columns, and other types of content published in newspapers and online, providing an overview of the workflows and systems involved in how they are sourced, edited and formatted, and distributed. The overview is intended to form the basis for developing rational and effective library strategies for preserving news in electronic formats.

 

The report identifies some of the limitations of recent approaches to preserving born electronic news, such as web archiving and preserving page-image files. These approaches do not go far enough to preserve the daily news reporting and other content issued by the major publishers, nor do they adequately preserve characteristics of news distributed through the web and other digital platforms that are important parts of the historical record. The report also suggests that a viable approach to preserving electronic news will require cooperation between libraries and newspaper producers, publishers, and/or aggregators. With the convergence of the “vertical” media (see David Pogue’s January 2, 2011 NY Times column), libraries might even consider organizing their collecting and preservation efforts around some of the major media organizations, such as The New York Times, Associated Press, and News Corporation.

CRL will continue to expand the report and to support the development of appropriate preservation and collection strategies. This will be necessary to ensure that researchers continue to have access to what has been called “the first rough draft of history.” CRL’s July 13 webinar on news preservation will also suggest some viable library strategies for ensuring future access to news in electronic form.