Do Newspaper Archives Need a “Dead Man’s Switch”?

You might not have heard about this, as the US media seems mostly occupied with covering the US presidential election. But it happened: on March 4th, the Turkish government seized Zaman, the most widely-circulated newspaper in Turkey. This was at the direction of Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has a longstanding beef with opposition journalists.

The shutdown of a newspaper by a government is bad enough. But the government of Turkey went one step further and deleted Zaman’s entire digital archive. 27 years of newspaper archives, in their digital format, gone. Blammo. And with the old history gone, why, you’ve made space for brand new history! As Mustafa Akyol noted, once the paper was seized and the archives destroyed, things were suddently very different: “A day after the police took full control, Zaman, which had lately become very outspoken against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his rule, found itself with an opposite political line under a trustee appointed by the government to manage the paper.”

And there is no historic argument against this new line, because thanks to the destruction of the archives, there is no history – at least, no history that can be easily accessed and distributed. The history is only what survives, fragmented and quoted, in print and online, and what stays in people’s heads – and God knows how fragile that is.

It seems so unlikely that such a thing would happen here in the United States, or in any country which holds freedom of the press as a core principle. But consider Hillary Clinton’s statements about Nancy Reagan and AIDS, the politest term for which might be “reframing”. With the sharp rise of authoritarianism, driven by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, is it that difficult to imagine government bodies removing a story here or there, “tweaking” a decades-old quote, or simply removing archives that don’t quite fit the tone of the new administration?

The idea isn’t entirely without precedent. After all, the Supreme Court will keep revising its decisions for years after producing them. There’s no legislated requirement that I know of to inform the public of these changes, but the Supreme Court put mechanisms in place to track and highlight the changes to its decisions — oh, it must have been decades ago. Oh, sorry, I’m wrong; it was last October, a few months after a Twitter bot began crawling the SCOTUS decisions and tweeting about possible changes.

On the other hand I might be comparing apples and oranges. Supreme Court decisions are of course a product of the US government. Seizing or altering the components of a fourth or fifth estate entity would be much more difficult.

…But, once done, so much more final. Supreme Court decisions, as the product of the government, are in theory public domain. Newspapers are businesses. They must take steps to protect their intellectual property against theft and misuse, and therefore often have paywalls restricting archives or even current content. Because of this protection their archives are also vulnerable to seizure or destruction. Digital impermanence is enough of a problem without being deliberately orchestrated by a government entity which doesn’t like the cut of your jib.

For newspapers, paying the overhead is the immediate problem. Keeping the lights on, keeping up the advertising revenue is the problem. Yes, journalism is important. But if you haven’t paid the power bill you’re not going to get very far. Paid access to archives provides revenue. Paying subscribers provides revenue. The threat of seizure or censorship by a government entity might not even be on your radar. Why endanger your cash flow by making your archives more open?

I wonder if there’s a way to protect a newspaper’s archives while not interfering with your business. Would it be possible, for example, to have the Internet Archive do a “second level” of crawling that would store newspaper archives under a different classification, so they would not be released into the Wayback Machine until the activation of the dead man’s switch? An archive is seized; a newspaper goes under. Instead of that history being gone, it’s released in the Wayback Machine. (Or, if you’re concerned about intellectual property, it’s held for x years and then released. The point is, it doesn’t just vanish.)

Or for the finest in distributed archives, why not a torrent? Torrent seeds are planted different places around the Internet. After a newspaper site fails a check after x tries over y days, or an e-mail goes unacknowledged after z days, the torrents are automatically put online for anybody to download.

I’ve expressed before my dissatisfaction with all the 2016 US presidential candidates. Yet at the same time I don’t think we’re quite at Mr. Erdogan’s level of oppression. There are any number of reasons to want to provide emergency access to your archives, however. Bankruptcy, hacking, disasters. Making an attempt to safeguard our reporting of our times – as flawed and myopic as that perspective might be! – is something we owe history and our culture.

Fruit, Soybeans, Georgia, More: Afternoon Buzz, June 11, 2014

Historical Savannah GA newspapers are now available at the Digital Library of Georgia. “The archive will provide access to three newspaper titles published in Savannah from 1809 to 1880: Savannah Georgian (1819-1856), Savannah Morning News (1868-1880), and the Savannah Republican (1809-1868).”

According to research at Cornell, emotional contagion is possible across social networks. So when Facebook witholds updates from pages or friends… is it going to be held responsible for the ensuing emotional state? “When it hasn’t been your day – your week, your month, or even your year – it might be time to turn to Facebook friends for a little positive reinforcement. According to a new study by social scientists at Cornell, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Facebook, emotions can spread among users of online social networks.”

Google has released security updates for Chrome and Chrome OS. If you’re using them, patch patch patch.

More Google: don’t want to miss any World Cup matches? Google Calendar to the rescue.

A new Web site provides information on fruit genome databases. “Called “tree fruit Genome Database Resources,” or tfGDR, the website ( accesses several databases that house genomic, genetic and breeding resources for 22 major horticultural crops. It includes videos and articles that highlight the role genomics, breeding and these databases in particular are playing in solving industry problems in fruit production.”

Somewhat related: a free online database for soybean studies is now available. “The Soybean Knowledge Base (SoyKB), a free online data resource, allows collaboration among international researchers, scientists and farmers to solve questions encountered in soybean research.”

Genealogy peeps, FamilySearch is offering a beginning Hispanic research Webinar in English on June 21st.

I missed this last week: the Food and Drug Administration has launched openFDA. An API, in other words. “OpenFDA utilizes a search-based Application Program Interface (API) to collect large amounts of existing publicly available data, offering developers the ability to search through text within that data, ranking results much like a search using Google would do. This method then allows them to build their own applications on top of openFDA, giving them a large amount of flexibility to determine what types of data they would like to search and how they would like to present that data to end-users. This enables a wide variety of applications to be built on one common platform.” Good afternoon, Internet…

I love your comments, I love your site suggestions, and I love you. Feel free to comment on the blog, or @ResearchBuzz on Twitter. Thanks!

Jazz, Buffalo New York, and the 1970s, in One Lovely Digitized Package

Buffalo Jazz ReportThe University at Buffalo announced earlier this week that it had digitzed the entire run of the Buffalo Jazz Report and made it available in the UB Institutional Repository.

The Buffalo Jazz Report was a freebie newspaper distributed between March 1974 and December 1978. You can browse the entire 58-issue run in all its 1970s glory at

You can browse issues or do a search. (You can also browse by author or subject, but there’s only one author and only five subjects.) The search is full-text but it’s pretty basic; a search for Monk found 37 results but the results simply pulled PDFs of full issues and did not direct me to excerpts or articles. Issues appear to be available only as PDFs; download them and read them in your favorite viewer.

The newspapers themselves include obituaries of musicians, occasionally articles on musicians, reviews of recordings, event listings, and relentlessly hip ads which could only be more 1970s if they were actually dipped in fondue. My favorite one was for a haircutter, “Crazy Ron,” who advertised with and without “Nanci.” And don’t forget Eskil’s Clog Shop (“When Your Feet Need a Friend.”)

Clog ShopThe newspaper evolves from a fairly brief affair with some drawings early on to a much larger newspaper with lots of articles, photographs, and concert reviews. I can’t find any indication that the last issue was the last issue; it seems to have just … ended.

Even if you don’t have a predilection for jazz you’ll enjoy the energy in the collection — editor and publisher Bill Wahl clearly loved what he was doing. (And he’s apparently still doing it! Check out for a database of over 8000 reviews of jazz recordings.) I recommending browsing, as the search doesn’t get you very far and there’s not enough detail in the subject trees to try to browse that way.

Newberry Library Launches Chicago Foreign Language Press Survey

Three cheers to Anne F, who let me know about the new Chicago Foreign Language Press Survey from the Newberry Library. It’s available at

The Chicago Foreign Language Press Survey was actually published over 70 years ago; the Newberry Library has brought it into the 21st century. Here’s how the site describes it: “The Chicago Foreign Language Press Survey was published in 1942 by the Chicago Public Library Omnibus Project of the Works Projects Administration of Illinois. The purpose of the project was to translate and classify selected news articles that appeared in the foreign language press from 1855 to 1938. The project consists of 120,000 typewritten pages translated from newspapers of 22 different foreign language communities of Chicago.”

Foreign Language Press Survey

There are over 48,000 articles in the collection. They can be searched by keyword, browsed by groups (groups include Albanian, Filipino, Lithuanian, Croatian, and Slovak), browsed by year (1855-1940), browsed by “Codes” (This is a tree of subject headings — a huge tree), or browsed by source (there are over 400, from the 1933 World’s Fair Weekly to Zwei Jahrhunderte Chicago.

The subject matter spans a great deal, but there’s a lot to be found on the topics of immigration laws, assimilation, education, economics, and social mores. I found many interesting articles just searching for the names of figures of the time. A Russian newspaper wrote a very kind eulogy to Will Rogers in 1935, while in a Lithuanian newspaper I found a reference to a letter from Upton Sinclair (though, sadly, not the letter itself.)

I did a search for computer and got 45 results, mostly because the search engine was matching on things like compute. Attempts to alleviate this by searching for “computer” and +computer didn’t work, in fact they made the results a lot worse. So be sure to use very precise, or, ideally, multiple keywords when you search this resource.

Foreign Language Press Survey Search Results Page

That aside, I love the elegance of the results page. A permanent link to the search results is available at the top of the page. After that there are summaries of matching articles along with information about the original language, source, and date. Click on a summary for the full article, and, beneath the full article, images of the cards from which the article came. Clicking on the headline of the article took me to a direct link to the article with a little additional information, including the article and its information in raw XML.

Though the articles were translations, I did not find them awkward or difficult to read. I did find myself at times interested in a particular source, but didn’t find any additional information at Newberry. Going to the LOC’s historical US Newspaper Directory got me more data about titles. One time it didn’t have the title I was looking for (Cesky Odd Fellow), but it did have a similar title (Cesky republikan) which was also in Chicago.

With the wide matching that the keyword search does, you might have to do some experimental searching before you get the best results, but even a casual browse here turned up fascinating historical material.

Google, Twitter, Old Newspapers, Movies, More: Morning Buzz, July 15, 2012

Another local newspaper is getting digitized. This time it’s the Randolph Herald (MA).

Today’s hack: BILLABONG! In plaintext again too. What kind of giant companies store passwords in plaintext? I mean besides stupid ones….

Google Operating System has some handy hints for finding public Google Docs files.

A search engine for really old tweets. “That means tweet IDs 1 to 20,000,000, to be exact, which occurred during parts of 2006 and 2007.” I think 20 million tweets would cover about — what? 90 minutes nowadays? #TwittergotBIG

GenealogyBank has added a bunch of Baltimore, Maryland newspapers to its archives. This is right after adding a bunch of Minnesota newspapers.

Google Translate is adding example sentences. “To try out the feature, simply type a few words in the left-hand text box of Google Translate, and then click on the example sentence icon…”

Interesting Web app for friends to help each other to find movies to watch. Sounds intriguing but I’d wreck it for you; I like Hollywood movies pre-1950 and Kung Fu movies. And the exceptions to those two extremes are usually movies like I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK. If your movie tastes are less weird than mine, check it out, and good morning, Internet…