Erasing the past

If you speak with a more cautious type, he might remind you that you shouldn’t publish anything on the Web you wouldn’t show your mother (happy pre-Mother’s Day, by the way) — you know, because once you hit “publish,” it’s “out there” forever.

Well, sure, that’s true. Kinta*. But there are plenty of cases where that’s not true. Like the case of the International Herald Tribune, of which the New York Times Company has been the sole owner since 2003.

About a month ago, IHT’s owners decided to merge the paper’s online presence with that of the corporate mothership, nytimes.com. In creating the new site, global.nytimes.com, the Times didn’t actually merge anything, according to Thomas Crampton, formerly a reporter at both newspapers, now a director in the Asia-Pacific arm of ad and PR giant Ogilvy.

Instead, the company erased any digital trace of IHT’s entire body of work — something that quite troubles Crampton, as well as many a search-engine optimizer, Web strategist, media industry consultant and Regular Joe Reader, I’m sure.

Writes Crampton in an open letter to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger (emphasis mine):

So, what did the NY Times do to merge these sites? They killed the IHT and erased the archives.

1- Every one of the links ever made to IHT stories now points back to the generic NY Times global front page.

2- Even when I go to the NY Times global page, I cannot find my articles. In other words, my entire journalistic career at the IHT – from war zones to SARS wards – has been erased.

On a personal level I am horrified that I can no longer see all my stories. The IHT logo on this blog used to link to a search of the IHT website for my articles. On a professional level, I am appaled that the NY Times would kill all the links back to the IHT website. Imagine the power of combining two sites with a Google rank of 9 instead of killing one.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that deleting the entire online presence of a major international newspaper is not a notable stop on the path to a winning business model. Not only did the Times Company destroy what was likely the most accessible, visible version of IHT’s product, but it also left countless holes in the Internet. The stories have died.

Links to IHT articles (like the one found on this page; click the headline) that predate the “merger” point to nothingness. Not an archived version of the page, no — that’d be too logical. Yes, that page of NY Times-branded nothingness claims the folks there are busy with the process of moving the archives, but that won’t fix the links nor restore the Google Page Rank magic that comes with them.

I think someone at the Times misunderstood the people pushing them to imagine what the future of a newspaper could be. We didn’t mean for you to erase the past.

* “Kinta” is a interesting looking mixture of “kinda” and “sorta,” which I find fun. As for why I wrote that non-word — and why I was compelled to include the handful of parenthetical asides and this lovely little asterisked footnote, I can explain: As I write this, I’m nearly finished reading my first Updike novel, A Month of Sundays (picked it up for one single dollar at a used book sale, and its aged tree pulp smells far nicer than a Kindle), which is loaded with winding sentences, thoughts that are sequestered by parentheses — or dashed off like so — and these oh-so-rare-in-novel asteriskers. And he does a lot of these “slip of the tongue”-in-print tricks like my “kinta.” So I’m feeling quite the literary influence right now.

Photo courtesy of Ed Kohler on Flickr

About Mike Keliher

I play guitar and love semicolons. I read Rolling Stone to argue with the “National Affairs” section and watch Bill O’Reilly to remind myself how not to argue. I’m roughly 1/6 the age of my colleagues here – and roughly 1/6 as smart. But I write well and they fell for it. As a student, I served on the national leadership committee of the Public Relations Student Society of America. I was the editor of the association’s newspaper while also serving as the opinion section editor for the University of St. Thomas’ Aquin newspaper. For the past four years, I’ve worked at a small, smart and interesting public relations firm called Provident Partners. Before that, I grew up in and managed a hardware store, built Web sites, worked in tech support, and played a lot of baseball. I still do all of these things with varying levels of professionalism. I wear shoes as a little possible.

6 responses to “Erasing the past

  1. Pingback: Why Do Publishers Nuke Themselves Online? (An Opportunity!) - Thomas Crampton

  2. Pingback: Why Do Publishers Nuke Themselves Online? (An Opportunity!) - Thomas Crampton

  3. Mike,

    Thanks for taking the time to post this.

    A new angle that I had not considered is the Wikipedia situation. The community there is not wrestling with what they should do about the broken links.

    Here’s a link to my posting on it:
    http://www.thomascrampton.com/newspapers/wikipedia-grappling-with-deletion-of-ihtcom/

    Perhaps a more web-savvy newspaper than the NY Times company will volunteer the time of replacing the IHT links with those to the WSJ, Wash Post or other publication.

    Tom

    • The Wikipedia angle is an interesting one. First, I’d imagine a solution will be quite suitable and rather swift because the keepers of Wikipedia are driven by passion, not by business process nor profit.

      Second, as you mention in your own post on the matter, the loss of countless links from Wikipedia is a specific, profound example of one of the many things that can go wrong by nuking a previous online existence.

      Thanks for stopping by, Thomas.

  4. My favorite wikipedia workaround in the conversation is adding a date and page number to all articles referenced so that people can go back to the paper archives. I thought we had moved beyond that era!!

  5. Dennis lang

    Good, if dark and frightening, story MK. (The erasure of memory.) Nice touch with the footnote–stories within stories. Have you been reading David Foster Wallace again? Yes, to all mothers and mother to be–Happy Mother’s Day!

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