Monday, August 10, 2009

How long should dead paper linger on web?

There is a special drawer in my house containing a neatly wrapped copy of the final edition of the Chicago Daily News, where I worked until it ceased publication on March 4, 1978.

So, I understand the affection and enduring sense of loss felt by a staff that has had a newspaper shot out from under it.

Still, I can’t help but wonder why the final website of the Rocky Mountain News remains online today as an uncomfortably maudlin reminder of the paper’s demise nearly six months after it closed.

The beautifully produced site (image below) attracted hundreds of comments – mostly sympathetic – when the E.W. Scripps Co. shut the paper on Feb. 27 after suffering tens of millions of dollars in operating losses that it said it could not staunch.

But the last of those comments came on March 3, which seems about the right length of time for a proper mourning period.

While the site attracted more than 600,000 unique visitors a month when the paper was going strong, traffic dropped to 132,000 visitors in June and has fallen off the radar since then, according to Compete.Com.

There’s no reason to visit, either. The site, which effectively captured the shock, grief and anguish of the paper’s talented staff at the moment it was closed, hasn’t been updated since then.

So, there it sits, frozen in time, evoking an awkward mawkishness that ill becomes the proud men and women who made the Rocky the hard-charging paper it was.

When does a newspaper get to rest in peace?


Blogger John Temple said...

Alan Mutter is right that the way Scripps is treating the Web site of the Rocky Mountain News is wrong. It would be much more helpful to readers looking if it explained what it's doing on the home page. As the paper's last editor and publisher, the current state of the site makes me sad. It's like a junk yard. Read my reflections Mutter's post at

6:35 AM  
Blogger Lyn Headley said...

I think of it like a kind of monument. People come by occasionally to remember and commiserate with others about what it was when it was alive and what it means today.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Matthew Terenzio said...

Rule number one on the internet.

Don't break links.

They should do everything possible to keep the site up and running so that old links still work, for research and historical purposes.

This may eventually need to fall under a non-profit archive foundation of some sort, but I don't understand why you'd want it to go away.

Funny, on the other side of the web Twitter users are up in arms because their last six months of URLs might be broken because URL shortener is closing down.

Yet newspapers don't value years of content they have contributed to the fabric of the web.

I'll take it over if they don't want to maintain it any longer.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Ken Carpenter said...

I agree with Matt (above) about preserving the links and the content, but shouldn't the home page be updated to reflect the historical/research/archival condition of the site?

9:20 AM  
Blogger arbus said...

That assumes there is even someone to tend/archive the site.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Loren Wassell said...

You raise some valid questions, and yet ...

I still remember finding an old rolled-up Daily News in my bushes, months after the paper closed. I happily and carefully unrolled it to enjoy the great writing one last time.

The content should remain available to show the world what's been lost.

5:35 PM  
Blogger J. Garland Pollard IV said...

Don't break links! I agree with Matt.

Needless to say, Scripps could hire a handful of former staffers and keep it going, if only to cover some of the basic news of Denver, and to write a few editorials. They would certainly be able to break even.

Heck, many people don't read the printed version anyway so they might not even notice that there is no printed paper anymore.

Just a bit of fresh content would then make the rest of the archive more valuable.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Steve Outing said...

I'm not sure where things are at in the process, but it was announced back in June that the Denver Public Library would take over the Rocky's archives, both print and digital.

I would hope that DPL doesn't break all the old web links as it takes over the digital archives.

Yes, Scripps should put some kind of explanation on the homepage. It is ... odd.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If...Newspapers had had the instict for news they are supposed to have they would have taken the leadership role in the NEW medium!!!But they are lost for leadership and have suffered the fate of one stoic in their clingyness to things passed away.A DAILY embrace of the medium(web reviews,site grades,any new whim it had DAILY!!)would have given them the steering role they are so proud of in American history.But those tired old souls forgot to pass along the instincts to a lot more than news sadly.So...WE move to a new era and hope instinct will be recovered for the good of a free press and Gods providence in the good ole...USA

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Gary Warner said...

I am hoping that in the future, more dead newspapers will actually come back to life on the web. Either through corporate largess, non-profit goodwill or Google's world domination. The ability to see the PDFs of NY Times articles about volcanic eruptions in Hawaii in the 1890s is great. I wish I could read the New York Herald Tribune, the Washington Star - and selfishly, get more clips from my days as state capitol bureau chief of The Pittsburgh Press.
More, please. Not less.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Rufus said...

I wonder what the fragments of our digital experiment will look like to generations 10,000 years into the future. There will be no physical fragments to find, no tightly rolled newspapers hidden in the cracks of caves, no stone tablets with carvings of news and legacy. Only a sea of dead Websites that can't be displayed on ancient laptops and Kindles whose batteries have long ago died and nobody makes a power adapter that fits.

Perhaps dead newspaper Websites are a futile, desperate attempt to record history with the best tools of the age available, though I suspect future generations will get almost everything wrong about who we were, what made us tick. They will have no bones to assemble and no paper to glue back together.

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Proof positive that there is life after death after all.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Google NEEDS info, dead or alive, for it's ''seekers ...

No 'info', no 'Google'. No 'Google' (aka SEARCH ENGINES), no internet. No internet, no LIFE - for those who be techno-dependent ...

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Steve Haigh said...

The Rocky's home page may be "zombified," but the nuggets inside are still there if you know where to dig. Here are links to several of the paper's finest special reports:

Beyond the Boom

Civic Center Blues

The Crevasse

Deadly Denial

Final Salute

The Crossing

Profiles in Honor

Walking the Line

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Paper Research said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

11:05 PM  

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