The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (FWST) did a fine front-page article on Wednesday, March 13th covering the on-line Portal to Texas History (PTH). It did a particularly good job of the work that the PTH is doing in digitizing and publishing old newspaper editions.
Sounds great doesn't it? But in spite of all the bright, trendy acceptance that the FWST put into this article, there's just one little problem...
The 1922-1972+ DIGITAL BLACK HOLE..
The fact is that the FWST is one of the largest Texas newspapers to be undigitized, unindexed and unpublished from 1922 to the present. Sure, it's all available on microfilm if you want to burn the gas, pay the parking, as well as risk your eyesight and sanity at the FW Public Library.
But a big chunk of the FWST from 1922 on is not available anywhere on the internet. It's not the FW Public Libraries fault...
Anyone that has ever worked with indexed and digitized newspapers will tell you that they can get 10 to 100 times more work done if the newspaper is on-line than by doing the heavy lifting at a library table. Library work is traditional, with the image of the hunched-back wretch staring myopically into the film reader going through a billion words to find anything close to the subject matter under consideration. While we may admire the perseverance of those willing to do this, the fact is that it is unnecessary today and the sweat expended does not in any way make the end research product any better or any more worthy.
"Newspapers are the archaeological records of a town or city," said Ana Krahmer, supervisor of the digital newspaper unit at UNT Libraries. " Loss of one day -- one issue -- is a loss of that history."
How to get the FWST 1922-to fairly recent times digitized and available?
"While most of the information comes from small-town newspapers, adding major Texas dailies to the project is an ambition that is still evolving and while include working out copyright issues and getting funding to digitize the newspapers, Krahmer said."
Copyrights or intellectual property? This isn't impossible. The Belo Corporation, including the Dallas Morning News, have been completely digitized for years. Many other large papers are digitized through several sources. It's a matter of the intellectual property owner or owners turning over the rights. The old idea that newspapers could build profit centers by selling old clips has not worked out. Instead, thoughtful newspapers that have any regard for local history and its preservation have long been making arrangements to that their their old issues digitized by some institution like the PTH or by commercial subscription providers like GenealogyBank.
What is really needed right now is for the owners of the FWST, or if they do not have the rights, for the current owners to offer them to PTH or some other digitizer. Do the right thing, right now.
"We would really love to work with anyy dailies who would like to work with us" Krahmer said. "We are very interested in digital preservation of large daily newspapers because they represent such a large body of the population".
Can we wonder if Ms. Krahmer had any thoughts about why the paper interviewing her was not itself involved in the historic preservation they were describing so glowingly?
It's hard to believe that Diane Smith who wrote the article or her editors were unaware of this glaring paradox: An article promoting historical newspaper digitization from one of Texas' primary serial non-digitizers'... Go figure..
UPDATE Sunday March 24, 2013:
Word was received today from Senior VP/Executive Editor Jim Witt about the status of digitizing & indexing Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives including the newspaper from 1922:
"The Star-Telegram's parent company has contracted with Newsbank to digitize all our archives"
NewsBank is the parent company of GenealogyBank, a reasonably priced subscription service, which many of us use.
We appreciate the word from the Star-Telegram about their plans to digitize their archives. We look forward to using these new resources as they become available.