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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Letter to Mt. Express regarding the power of enhanced newspaper archives:

This is a long suggestion, so I will submit it in two parts. Here is part one:

As much has been made of the fact the Express now owns 127 years of The Old Wood River Journal’s historical newspaper records; and hold these ancient archives in high esteem; I was surprised to learn that the equally important Wood River Journal online archive, which stretches back a decade or more, is no longer available. When I asked several of my former collegues at both newspapers about this, some of them believed that Lee Enterprises still holds the searchable archives. However when I questioned Lee’s management, they said the Express controls these.

If this is true, and it is the Express’s intent to keep these records offline, there are several reasons, why they should reconsider. Besides profiting in a karmatic way, they could also profit financially in this tough time for newspapers everywhere. First, I cannot imagine that keeping these precious archives up would even be very expensive. Especially when measuring that cost against the invaluable benefits, such historical records can contribute to communities. If the Express will reconsider, there are several workable solutions at hand, including a fundraiser here, oriented towards newspaper aficionados and local historical buffs. This episode is now reminding me of a well-received letter, I submitted last year, to curators at The Newseum:

Let’s not allow reporters epic efforts, sink down the memory-hole drain in vain

As more newspapers like The Albuquerque Tribune (and WR Journal) continue going out of business, we should make concerted efforts to preserve their precious archives. Many newspapers start out struggling; never knowing if they are going to make it beyond a few years. Therefore, they never budget annually, very much, in way of back scanning their archives (Though many State libraries make diligent efforts to do so.)

Recently, (Wash. Post owned) Slate Magazine ran an article bashing their cross-town rival USA Today’s ambitious Newseum project, by comparing it to the new American Indian Museum on our National Mall. Essentially, Slate said that both museums “were designed to be the sumptuous setting for candle-lit fundraisers, where you can almost hear the clink of highball glasses and the jing-a-ling of jewelry."

However, many fundraisers are actually used for constructive purposes. I would like to submit to the USA Today and Newseum board of directors, that they consider holding an annual fundraiser with the intention to salvage several newspapers that have gone beyond the brink. They could set up a committee, with a set of criteria for eligible newspapers, using a simple algorithm that involves historical context, the age of the newspaper, past awards won, average circulation amounts, whether a library has preserved their precious records of antiquity, and other relative parameters for markers to see who is best qualified, to not have their reporters enduring efforts just tossed into recycle. Besides salvaging newspapers gone back to the wild, the Newseum or some other good-willed newspaper-aficionado entity could help protect the historical archives of a handful of newspapers every year, which are still struggling to hang in there. Such funding could help construct enhanced fireproof storage facilities and state-of-the art fire-protection systems; much as visionary librarians have installed, to better protect our priceless records of antiquity, which have not yet been back-scanned or mirrored.

Besides a fundraiser, the Express could start charging a small fee or kindly ask for donations from archive users over their secure server, with the simple explanation that donations help fund the searchable archives.

Some readers maintain that any news item that ran in the Wood River Journal can already be found in the Express’s archives. I strongly disagree, as many weeks the Journal ran a completely different set of excellent letters to the editor, had separate award-winning columnists, and sometimes ran feature stories, including featured businesswomen of the valley and a long running series on war veterans. Not only that, but their (your) website used to include on the drop down menu, a link to some of the best stories distilled from their 125 year history into a comprehensive anthology!

Here is part two of my suggestion:

Last year, I suggested a tribute to Idaho war veterans to (then publisher) Jerry Brady. With the Express’s acquisition of the Journal, makes for an opportunity to revamp that suggestion, augmented it with the dozens of articles Mr. Cordes and others have already written about our dedicated veterans:

“The dozens of articles that Journal and Express reporters have written about our armed service veterans over the past few years are greatly impressive. Over the last few years, I remember thinking, while reading key feature stories by Jeff Cordes, Kelly Jackson and Karen Bossick and others what a grand thing it would be for our community, if the newspaper did a little something more with these in-depth articles.

Since the stories have already been written, the paper could go back at limited expense and simply cobble together a magazine or small book about our veterans to present to each of the regional history department heads of our local libraries. Other places where such a book would be a good fit are the coffee tables of our senior center, local armory, American Legion, Blaine Manor, St. Lukes, the Sun Valley Lodge, Sun Valley Adaptive Sports vans, etc. Imagine how far those feelings of good will could go, if a newspaper presented a copy of this book as a gift, during next years ceremonious ribbon-cutting at the new Senior Center.

Another way the paper could keep our Veterans vast experiences alive is a link to these stories within a special button on their website. Again, as the stories are already written, and most already online within the database, it doesn’t seem that such a tribute would take more than several hours to organize and then link to as a Veteran’s feature archive.

If my estimate is off and the newspaper’s management deems such a project to be too costly, my father –who is an American Legion Commander (back east) –reminds us that many American Legions and other veteran groups usually have strong-willed volunteers available to freely contribute and work in conjunction with local newspapers on such meaningful tasks.

Perhaps the time is too tight right now to get something like this running by this Memorial Day; however, if the paper were to make an announcement for an intention for a soon enhanced tribute, this would please many veterans. Perhaps the staff could plan to hand out copies of this special limited edition magazine to interested readers, during Hailey’s Fourth of July parade this summer.

I believe that such powerful articles deserve to be reprinted and featured in several prominent valley locations as respectful reminders to those, who have patriotically served our great country.”

Thank you for taking the time to read my suggestion. As the Express frequently runs strong editorials that speak against deftly airbrushing history, I trust that you will take to heart seriously some of the things I have said here.

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