When a number of local papers shut down in November, their websites and online stories disappeared. This left uncertain futures for communities looking for news and difficulties for reporters saving work for their portfolios.
In late November, Canadian media giants Postmedia and Torstar announced they were swapping a total of 41 community papers, and collectively closing down 37 of them. In early December, Torstar said it planned to upload the digital archives of papers it acquired over the next few weeks. Postmedia says it does not currently have plans to put the articles from its purchased–then–closed publications back online.
Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia’s vice president communications, said that the company acquired the digital archives when it took over the 24 Torstar papers. Postmedia was expected to close all but one of those papers by mid-January, and shut down their websites as well.
Websites for those outlets now redirect to Postmedia sites for papers in the same region.
— Darryl Smart (@DarrylSmart1) December 4, 2017
Torstar has also redirected the websites for papers it acquired from Postmedia. The Barrie Examiner, for example, now directs to the Metroland site, Simcoe.com.
Metroland will import the historical article content from the closed newspapers onto Metroland sites “over the next two weeks or so,” said Star spokesman Bob Hepburn in an email in early December. He said that the goal is to have all the archived stories online again, but the company is still working out logistics.
Gelfand says she’s not sure there’s a definitive answer to whether the articles will ever go back online, but says newspaper websites were never meant to be a complete and permanent archive. For instance, she said, not every article that’s ever been posted to the National Post or Calgary Herald websites is still available online.
The shuttered papers were largely in Ontario, but also included Metro Winnipeg. The deal cost 290 people their jobs.
Darryl Smart was the regional sports editor for two papers Postmedia took over and closed: Norfolk News and Brant News. He said seeing these newspapers “vaporized into cyber-space” hurts more than losing his job.
“These are the people’s stories––the people we wrote about. That was their moment,” Smart said. He co-founded the Norfolk News weekly four years ago, and wanted to focus on telling human stories within the community.
After multiple attempts, Smart found a work-around for accessing his stories online. Because Norfolk and Brant News were amalgamated with another paper, the Sachem, he found articles by copying and pasting the desired URL, and replacing brantnews.com or norfolknews.ca with sachem.ca.
Matt Day knows what it’s like to lose online stories, too. He worked at the Dunnville Chronicle before it closed in 2012, and the website quickly redirected to the Simcoe Reformer.
“For those who lost their job, they lose their portfolio — something they can link to,” Day, who now works in communications, said.
While some of his stories are still online because they were shared between partner news sites, Day said he can no longer access many of his local stories. He kept hard copies, and the paper’s e-editions are still online, but Day said it’s hard when people can’t search for URLs.
“I think a community loses a lot of its knowledge about itself,” Day said, adding that people might toss away their free paper, but if they’re looking for something specific, they’ll go to the web.
Former RRJ member Kieran Delamont, who was a reporter for the now-shuttered Metro Ottawa, said he didn’t get much information after the abrupt handover.
He was surprised to learn that the Metro Ottawa website now redirects to the Ottawa Citizen page.
“We sort of knew that it was going to happen eventually,” Delamont said in November. “I would have liked to see them give us a clear answer as to what was happening, and not leave us to sort of figure it out on our own. But that’s what they did.”
Delamont also has a “bit of a work-around.” He can still access his articles through his author page on Metro News. After the closure, he has no way to access the proofs of newspaper pages, which makes it difficult to put a portfolio together.
“I feel really awful for anybody who has worked for the paper for years … and then suddenly found the whole thing offline,” he said.
Delamont referenced another recently-shuttered publication, Gothamist, in New York. When it and DNAInfo were shut down in early November, their archives were abruptly removed from the internet.
“I think it’s incumbent upon companies to keep these available, in my mind, if only for long enough to give people time,” he said.
Nathan Taylor, former regional editor for Postmedia’s five papers in Simcoe county, said he was not told what Torstar’s plans were for the online articles.
He said he hoped there would be some way for the public to easily access the old stories, and was glad to hear Torstar had plans in the works.
Torstar will not maintain the servers for the former sites, Hepburn said.
Writing stories and trying to find background information is proving difficult since Metroland killed more than a decade's worth of the Packet's online archives. Really testing my memory…
— Nathan Taylor (@nathan_taylor82) January 19, 2018
If civic organizations like libraries or universities are interested in the hard-copy archives of closed papers, Postmedia is open to having those conversations, Gelfand said, noting that Postmedia recently gave two million photo negatives to Vancouver’s archives.