Expert wrangler of predicaments Phillip Mendonça-Vieira has put together a very cool time-lapse movie from about 12,000 screenshots of the front page of the nytimes.com. The movie is interesting to watch in a Koyaanisqatsi kind of way, but what I find most poignant is his commentary that accompanies the movie. Mendonça-Vieira writes,
Having worked with and developed on a number of content management systems I can tell you that as a rule of thumb no one is storing their frontpage layout data. It’s all gone, and once newspapers shutter their physical distribution operations I get this feeling that we’re no longer going to have a comprehensive archive of how our news-sources of note looked on a daily basis. Archive.org comes close, but there are too many gaps to my liking.
This, in my humble opinion, is a tragedy because in many ways our frontpages are summaries of our perspectives and our preconceptions. They store what we thought was important, in a way that is easy and quick to parse and extremely valuable for any future generations wishing to study our time period.
This really resonated with me. Some time back, we wrote a paper that garnered quite a lot of media coverage. Indeed, we even got the ‘front page’ of the nytimes.com, if only fleetingly. I am very glad that I had the presence of mind to save that screen shot as a pdf so I would be able to preserve this 15 minutes of fame for posterity. If they had been available, I would have bought lots of paper copies. However, what I am left with is this:
This really is a shame and clearly represents a serious challenge for the historians of tomorrow and the archivists of today.