Here Today, Gone within a Month: The Fleeting Life of Digital News

HALBERT, Martin, SKINNER, Katherine, WILSON, Marc and ZARNDT, Frederick (2016) Here Today, Gone within a Month: The Fleeting Life of Digital News. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2016 – Columbus, OH – Connections. Collaboration. Community in Session S21 - Satellite Meeting: News Media. In: News, new roles & preservation advocacy: moving libraries into action, 10-12 August 2016, Lexington, KY, USA.

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Language: English (Original)
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Here Today, Gone within a Month: The Fleeting Life of Digital News

In 1989 on the shores of Montana’s beautiful Flathead Lake, the owners of the weekly newspaper the Bigfork Eagle started to help community newspapers with developing technology. has since evolved into an integrated digital publishing and content management system used by more than 1600 newspaper, broadcast, magazine, and web-native publications in North America. is now headquartered on the banks of the mighty Mississippi river in Moline Illinois. Not long ago Marc Wilson, CEO of, noticed that of the 220,000+ e-edition pages posted on behalf of its customers at the beginning of the month, 210,000 were deleted by month’s end. What? The front page story about a local business being sold to an international corporation that I read online September 1 will be gone by September 30? As well as the story about my daughter’s 1st place finish in the district field and track meet? A 2014 national survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) of 70 digital-only and 406 hybrid (digital and print) newspapers conclusively showed that newspaper publishers also do not maintain archives of the content they produce. RJI found a dismal 12% of the “hybrid” newspapers reported even backing up their digital news content and fully 20% of the “digital-only” newspapers reported that they are backing up none of their content. Educopia Institute’s 2012 and 2015 surveys with newspapers and libraries concur, and further demonstrate that the longstanding partner to the newspaper—the library—likewise is neither collecting nor preserving this digital content. This leaves us with a bitter irony, that today, one can find stories published prior to 1922 in the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America and other digitized, out-of-copyright newspaper collections but cannot, and never will be able to, read a story published online less than a month ago. In this paper we look at how much news is published online that is never published in print or on more permanent media. We estimate how much online news is or will soon be forever lost because no one preserves it: not publishers, not libraries, not content management systems, and not the Internet Archive. We delve into some of the reasons why this content is not yet preserved, and we examine the persistent challenges of digital preservation and of digital curation of this content type. We then suggest a pathway forward, via some initial steps that journalists, producers, legislators, libraries, distributors, and readers may each take to begin to rectify this historical loss going forward.

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