Why Do Publishers Nuke Themselves Online? (An Opportunity!)
May 9, 2009
Last night, my frustration about the casual deletion of the IHT archives and links to articles boiled over into an open letter to The New York Times publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.
No word from Mr. Sulzberger or the NY Times yet, but I have been heartened by postings of support from fellow bloggers and even mainstream journalists.
Postings included Boing Boing, Reuters, The Guardian, Dan Gillmor, MyPhillyNetwork, Phiforfools, Same Rowdy Crowd, a Belgian podcast Audioboo, a site called “The NYTpicker” (They only writes about the NY Times) as well as TIME magazine‘s Justin Fox. Numerous people Twittered the posting.
P2Pnet created the illustration the left.
Sadly, through these conversations I have learned of similar moves by other major publications. These are the same publications that have repeatedly claimed they fully embrace the web.
The rogues gallery – in addition to my august former employer, The New York Times – now includes:
Justin Fox on Fortune switching URL:
I’ve been steamed for years because, when fortune.com became money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/, the Time Warner powers that be saw fit to delete from existence out all web-only content that had previously resided on fortune.com, including the ‘London Calling’ columns I wrote every week in 2000 and 2001.
David Kirkpatrick lost his online-only column:
I had been writing my online-only Fast Forward column since early 2002, and when the switch was made at the beginning of 2006, all the links were broken and there was no effort made to republish the columns at the new combined site. Today the column archive at http://money.cnn.com/
magazines/fortune/fastforward/ does not go back beyond 2006. This happened also to a couple of other Fortune online columnists as well.
It was presented as a cost-saving measure. Apparently the labor required to rebuild the pages on the new site was considered unjustified. But it’s often been pointed out to me that if you believe in any version of the Long Tail argument it is shortsighted, even from a cold-blooded financial perspective. Fortune and now the Times are losing the opportunity to present ads on a lot of very specific articles, which might not be often viewed but which almost certainly sometimes would be.
And of course, as you note, it’s rude and journalistically disrespectful.
When Felix Salmon left Portfolio magazine his identity was stolen:
My name was summarily erased from more than 4,000 blog entries at Portfolio.com, when the site hired Ryan Avent to replace me. Now, everything I wrote has Ryan’s name on it instead of mine. You could call it erasing my career, I suppose. It can be fixed quite easily — if Portfolio.com stays up, which it’s far from obvious that it will — but I’m told there are no staff available to fix it.
After shutting down AsiaWeek – once Asia’s largest circulation regional news magazine – Alejandro Reyes found all his articles erase. How much would it cost TIME to maintain one server with all of AsiaWeek? Surely the ads would cover the cost.
Time did the very same thing two years ago when it took the Asiaweek archives offline. Today, if anybody wanted to read about the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 in the hope of learning lessons from that period that might be applied to today’s global economic turmoil, he would not be able to access any of Asiaweek’s excellent coverage online. Nobody can now access online any of Asiaweek’s outstanding coverage of Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Whatever you might think about the quality of Asiaweek, it’s a crime against knowledge, scholarship, and the public’s need to know and be informed. This is all very tragic – misguided decisions by New York-centric media bureaucrats whose careers are probably soon to be deleted just as ruthlessly.
Dan Gillmor wrote about when Knight-Ridder homogenized local newspaper websites in 2002:
What K-R did to its papers, to those papers’ readers, to its local journalists, to the Web environment they all once graced, and finally to itself, was a coast-to-coast fuck-you. Gone or buried are all the local papers’ local originalities. They were dispersed, everywhere, in a snowstorm of 404s. Gone are persistent archives. Gone are the paper’s names, sections, and local characters. In their place is the same faceless homogeneity — and no doubt the same cost-cutting, advertising-selling and content-managing rationalizations that Clear Channel gave us when they removed all sense of local origination from commercial radio. (h/t sbw)
Dow Jones (sort of)
Salil Tripathi on how her older stories disappeared behind a firewall when the Far Eastern Economic Review went monthly:
I worked at Far Eastern Economic Review in the late 1990s. The magazine stopped being a weekly around 2004, and was reborn as a monthly a year or so later. I’ve continued to write for it all these years.
FEER’s website has some parts that are free to use, and some restricted only to subscribers. When you search for something specific, you are likely to get only articles that have been published since it became a monthly. To access its rich archive of over 60 years of reporting on Asia, you have to go to factiva, Dow Jones’s proprietary service. Unlike NYT, FEER hasn’t erased stories from an earlier incarnation, but accessing those isn’t easy either.
I’ve written for the International Herald Tribune as well, but as I was not a staffer, and wrote only op-eds, and probably wrote only about a dozen pieces in the last few years, I’m not terribly optimistic that I will get to see my IHT pieces anytime soon!
Know of any other examples?
Two concluding thoughts:
1- How sad that major media companies act with such cavalier attitude towards their major asset: Content.
2- If they are so uninterested in this content, anyone want to team up to buy the content and put it online ourselves? (Seems particularly good idea in the case of the AsiaWeek archives). Anyone know whom I should contact at Time about this?
Road photo courtesy blmurch