Increasingly, censorship of the media is spreading the world over. In the U.S., the president threatens to change libel laws, while right-to-be-forgotten laws have become common across Europe. One was even introduced in New York State, before it was nixed.
With so much journalism moving to digital-only production and easily searchable, a tricky situation arises. What will ultimately be more important to the public — preserving the public record and freedom of speech or protecting one’s reputation should an unsavory piece of information surface online?
In a story at the Neiman Journalism Lab, writer Laura Hazard Owen outlines the efforts of the Offshore Journalism Project, a group dedicated to preserving content in danger of deletion through the creation of a set of tools in development.
The project, supported in part by the Google Digital News Initiative, released findings from its first year of study last June, which outlines the state of digital journalism, areas of vulnerability and solutions to those issues.
Founders Nicolas Kayser-Bril and Mario Tedeschini-Lalli created the project with the intention of transferring content from countries where the press is most under attack, to those that enjoy greater freedoms, like the U.S.— for the time being.
Though archiving services do exist, they don’t protect against the disappearance of all digital content like embedded YouTube videos, for example, and can’t make it past paywalls or locked Facebook accounts to retrieve content.
Offshore Journalism hopes to solve these issues. Using an HTML metatag which they’ve created, crawlers would be able to assess which content is newsworthy and in need of archiving, as well as the priority level of types of content. The crawlers could then send a notice to third-party archiving services that a page should be copied.
After a page is saved, an organization or publisher has a few options.
A publication could immediately publish the page with an international digital archive service like Archive.org, giving ownership of the content over to the organization to avoid legal issues. Or, it could be saved with the intention to publish a duplicate at a later date. The content can also be saved to use when and if a page is taken down.
The project hopes to make these tools publicly available after the testing phase is complete.
Volatile political eras frequently mean endangerment for all types of free speech, and though the press is protected in the U.S., the last year has revealed how vulnerable once considered bulletproof institutions could be.
The Offshore Journalism Project is offering a valuable tool. But more important, Owen notes, it offers a valuable arena in which to discuss the future freedoms of the press.