Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Newspapers as scaffolding for local stories

When I was cobbling together my information for my last post about the current drama about my local public library system, I had to resort to sources other than my local newspaper. This is because The Windsor Star puts all its articles older than 30 days old behind a paywall. And so in order to link to background information to provided better context to what I was describing, I had to resort to these articles unofficially reprinted online elsewhere and to local blogger commentary that wasn't exactly objective.

It made me realize something. Newspapers don't just describe events that become the historical record - they provide an important structure that supports discussion of those events. Now that The New York Times has made its archive available online, users can now link to articles to provide historical context to their online writings ("I'm so GenX that I still swing it on the flippity flop").

But smaller papers haven't made this leap of faith, and so our local memory is all short term. For example, today the mayor announced a plan to build a canal and marina in downtown Windsor (link will expire in time - a related problem). My husband told me that the local CBC news also reported this story and, unlike the Windsor Star, mentioned several other instances going back into the 1980s of similar failed plans for a marina downtown. I wasn't in Windsor in the 1980s and so this local knowledge was news to me.

There's another opportunity here. With a little bit of cataloguing and perhaps some semantic linking like Harper's Magazine has done, a newspaper archive could slowly evolve into its own reference work. Maybe an arrangement could be made. Libraries could trade staff time and cataloguing expertise in exchange for making the archives available for free to the public.

There has been discussion as of late whether Google (aka The Internet) is making us stupid. Maybe that's so, but by not putting our stories about local events on the Internet, we are in danger of being perpetually ignorant.


Fichter said...


This is a great point that you've made about local communities and stories being more difficult to reference and even write with depth.


Mita said...

Kismet! Dan Gillmor also believes newspapers should open up their archives! [via Michael Nielson's FF]

Anonymous said...

Mita, you could have used eLibrary Canada on WPL's website, it goes back to 2000 and is free ...

Anonymous said...

And the local media is "objective?"