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Preserving Born-Digital Community and Hyperlocal News

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Guest post by Abbie Grotke, Library of Congress Web Archiving Team Lead, and Co-Chair of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Content Working Group. 

You may have read the news last week that the community news website EveryBlock shut its doors rather abruptly. Founded in 2007 with help from a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant, EveryBlock’s goal was to “create, test and release open-source software that links databases to allow citizens of a large city to learn (and act on) civic information about their neighborhood or block.”

The shutdown surprised the founder of the site (who had recently left the company), as well as users, who had no warning and opportunity to download any of their content. An article on the Knight Digital Media Center proclaims this “how NOT to shut down a community site.”

I participate in the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Content Working Group, where we’ve broken up into Content Teams to focus on particular areas of born digital content in need of preserving. Members of the News, Media and Journalism Content Team (led by Kristine Hanna at the Internet Archive, and including Cathy Hartman from the University of North Texas Libraries, James Simon from the Center for Research Libraries, John Weise from the University of Michigan, Gail McMillan of Virginia Tech, and myself and Amber Paranick from LOC) have been developing case studies to describe some of the challenges and potential opportunities with preserving at-risk news content. With the news of EveryBlock’s shutdown, we thought it a good time to roll out our Born-Digital Community and Hyperlocal News case study (PDF) to the public for comment. In addition, we’ve been working on case studies for newspaper e-prints (PDF) and citizen journalism (PDF) (blogs and social networking sites), and we invite you to take a look at these as well.

Our case studies (and those being worked on in some of the other teams), aim to:

  • Establish the value of the content and provide the rationale for selecting it for preservation. What value does the content have? Is anyone collecting it? What factors affect its risk of disappearance?
  • Document recognized opportunities for preserving this content. Are there workflows in the creation or distribution of content that present opportunities for preservation?
  • Describe target audiences/stakeholders. Who would find value in this content and how might they be engaged in the process of preservation?
  • Outline a plan for educating stakeholders. How might NDSA or another organization raise the awareness of stakeholders including content creators, publishers, educators, libraries, researchers, or donors?
  • Describe potential obstacles or risk factors. What barriers for users/creators/preservationists might be faced and what options are there for overcoming them?
  • Develop actionable next steps. What can we do next, as a community or as individual institutions to ensure that important content is preserved?

We welcome community feedback on our case studies as well as ideas on possible next steps to reach out to stakeholders of these types of content. The case studies are a first step at articulating some of the issues, ways the community might work together to preserve at-risk news content and most importantly – where do we go from here.

We hope that by raising awareness about the importance of preserving such content, both creators and publishers of sites such as EveryBlock would think about the value that such a resource might have for future scholars and historians interested in the creation of local news by communities, citizen journalism, and how these media outlets were distributed in the early 21st century. There is no print equivalent to EveryBlock. I was pleased to see that some versions of EveryBlock were archived at the Internet Archive, though this is not something that can be guaranteed all the time; and because of the way the site is constructed, navigating to the old posts can be tricky if not impossible for some of the content.

With born-digital news content, if we don’t preserve it now before it goes away, it can and will be lost forever. We can’t save everything; but with no warning of a shutdown, the archivists and the curators don’t even get a chance to make that choice.


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