In 2002, the Columbia Missourian suffered a server crash. The Missourian backups were held in an obsolete version of a content management system. In less than a second, the newspaper’s digital archive of 15 years of stories and 7 years of photojournalism were gone forever.
All digital news content is fragile and subject to loss: computer systems will crash; all storage media will eventually fail; software applications and formats will continue to evolve; natural disasters are inevitable; human beings will make mistakes.
The consequences of archival system failure are heavy, said Tom Warhover, executive editor for innovation at the Columbia Missourian: “You can’t offer up a comprehensive product to sell — your archives — if they aren’t complete. You can’t be sure you’ve really vetted a candidate for school board or city council. You can’t find those historical pieces from events that now are historic and worth reporting again on anniversaries.”
In response to the panoply of threats facing digital news content, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) launched the Journalism Digital News Archive (JDNA) initiative in 2013 and will host “Dodging the Memory Hole: Saving Born-digital News” November 10-11. Made possible by grants from The Mizzou Advantage and RJI, the forum will bring together journalists, historians, genealogists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, legal experts and others stakeholders to focus on a national action agenda for born-digital news preservation and access.