By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A disappeared alt-weekly highlights the challenge of saving digital archives

Paul Farhi of The Washington Post has an amazing story (free link) about The Hook, an alternative-weekly that used to publish in Charlottesville, Virginia. Its online archives disappeared after they were sold to a mystery buyer. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the buyer was a litigious deep-pockets guy who wanted to make invisible The Hook’s reporting about a sexual-assault case he was involved in years earlier.

Keeping online archives active and usable is a real challenge. Though what happened to The Hook was pretty unusual, it’s not unheard-of for valuable digital resources simply to disappear. Fortunately, the defunct alt-weekly I worked for, The Boston Phoenix, is available online through Northeastern University and the Internet Archive. You can find the Phoenix here.

It’s even more of a problem when the resource was digital-only and there was no print component that can be saved on microfilm. For instance, Blue Mass Group, a progressive political website that was a big deal in Massachusetts at one time, has been seeking a new digital home as the last of the co-founders, Charley Blandy, prepares to leave. Charley writes: “Plans are afoot for the site to be thoroughly crawled and archived. It won’t just disappear. The site will stay up, at least for a while, but for the purpose of archiving, commenting and posting will be disabled on 12/31/22.”

These resources need to be saved.

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  1. When the Advocate newspapers of Connecticut and Western. Mass. were bought by the Hartford Courant, the Hartford brass made clear to me they saw no value in the Advocates’ digital content. When they migrated us to the Courant’s platform, they didn’t bring the original archives along, telling me something to the effect of, “They have no value, you don’t have enough readers, no one is looking for them,” etc. the Advocates did some great reporting over the years, broke some major stories, and with a few exceptions most have now been vaporized due to corporate indifference.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Ugh. I was wondering about the Advocate when I was reading Farhi’s story. Stephen Mindich really wanted a home for the Phoenix, and I was glad to be able to connect him with Northeastern. I wish the online archives were better than they are, but they’re not terrible.

  2. Steve Bacher

    Doesn’t the Wayback Machine ( have any archived copies of any of these old pages?

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