Dodging the memory hole – Saving online news

The fifth edition of the ‘Dodging the memory hole’ conference this year took place at the Internet Archive (15-16 November). The conference brought together journalists, librarians, archivists and entrepreneurs exploring solutions to the loss of online news content. The conference sessions were recorded in their integrity and are available on YouTube

Several speakers talked about their own initiatives or projects. The approach of the Swedish Royal Library for example was presented. Next to performing broad crawls of the Swedish top-level domain for web archiving, the Swedish Royal Library currently archives about 140 daily newspapers via RSS feeds. The RSS feeds are read by the library systems every hour, but they plan to increase the frequency of capture to once every minute or every five minutes. Even though they already capture a lot of content, they are convinced it would be interesting to capture even more such as social media comments that would allow researchers to analyse how the news changes in reaction to these comments. Unfortunately, access to the web archive is currently  not permitted.

Several employees of the Internet Archive also talked about the different collections held by the institution, the Wayback Machine, and their ‘community webs’ initiative that allows local libraries to create their own local news web archive by means of the Archive-It service. Other initiatives also focus on local news. The Boston TV news digital library and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting for example both aim to centralise access to local televised news.

A number of digital preservation initiatives by universities were also discussed: the Stanford Digital Repository, Kentucky Digital Newspaper Program at the University of Kentucky, the PA news archive portal of the Pennsylvania State University Libraries, the Texas Digital Newspaper Program by the University of North Texas and lastly Cobweb that is essentially a centralised catalogue of collection and seed-level metadata of web archives (a collaboration between Harvard University, UCLA and the California Digital Library). This clearly shows that universities are aware of the need to preserve news and research data and facilitate the discovery of the different collections so that users can easily gain access to them and reuse the data or information for their own research.

A representative of the New York Times talked about the move of their archives to the cloud.  Legacy issues were discussed, for example their efforts to ensure that Flash content will be preserved and stay actionable as Flash will no longer be supported by 2020.

A number of tools were also presented. ReproZip  for example is a tool that allows packaging news applications and other dynamic websites for preservation. Webrecorder on the other hand is a high fidelity web archiving tool. Another tool that is currently being developed is called Esper. It allows to automatically extract complex metadata from videos by means of facial recognition detection or by means of the skeleton feature through which the posture of people appearing in the video can be detected. More information was also provided on LOCKSS (Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), a preservation network that provides permanent access to web materials and is based on a multi-copy model.

Other speakers focused on general problems that need to be solved, such as reference rot, the fact that copyright is too restrictive or the underrepresentation of minority groups in preserved news content.  There was also a general call to integrate a number of subjects into the curriculum for journalism programs such as metadata information organisation, the importance of tagging or effective information retrieval.

The Dodging the Memory Hole conference provided a good overview of the myriad of problems that currently impede the preservation of online news. However, more importantly, it underlined that a number of individuals and organisations are highly committed to preserving this ephemeral content.

A lot of aspects were evoked during the conference that need to be kept at the back of our minds when further developing the PROMISE project: metadata management, complexities of preserving specific types of content such as Flash elements, the tools available, the inevitability of bias in selective collections, the possibility of harvesting news via RSS feeds, … The conference has definitely provided us with food for thought.

 

 

 


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