Google as Curator of News

Originally published July 15, 2009. Update: Google has, amazingly, restored the Paper of Record website and search engine. We’ll keep snarking about this episode anyway just because it’s fun!

Paper of Record home page

This just in! Actually this is old news, or more precisely, old news about old news. So really, who cares? On the odd chance someone does, let me explain.

In 2006 Google quietly purchased a collection of old newspaper archives called Paper of Record. This was a great big repository of old newspapers from around the world, with an especially big chunk of dusty stuff from Mexico. I hear you echo my point above, “Who cares?” and I’m like, I know, right? So maybe historians and scholars would use this stuff to know things about history and other crusty, boring topics. They would use the Paper of Record website (paperofrecord.com) to search the entire collection and find out about things that happened in various places and times. So now Google bought it, and took down the Paper of Record website because honestly, Google does websites better than anyone except maybe Apple, but Apple doesn’t care about old newspapers because after all, old news, no news, know what I’m saying? So Google took the Paper of Record site and did us all a favor by basically deleting it. So now if you go to http://paperofrecord.com, you get not the Paper of Record archives but Google News Archive Search. And now you have the best of both worlds, because you can search the Google News Archive and not have to look at those crumbly old Paper of Record archives.

So now pointy heads like the American Historical Association and professors and stuff are up in arms, which if you think about the image this conjures in your mind so to speak, is pretty hilarious. Don’t get them mad, they’ll give you a detention! Also, Inside Higher Ed published a hot firey piece about Digital Archives That Disappear, thereby adding to the liberal media which is big enough already. Here we have to acknowledge: look folks, if people like Google didn’t come to the rescue here, where would Paper of Record be? Probably still online boring us all to death!

I know, I’m going over the top in the anti-old news department. Probably there are some important digital objects in those old newspaper archives from around the world, like old comics which might be funny. Old sports scores, which you might use to go back in time and make a fortune with like the guy in that Back to the Future movie. How does that work? We’ll never know without those archives! So Google promises to bring them back, and they’ll be better than ever because you know Google! I think Google will make those old newspapers new again. Instead of having to read them you’ll just type something in that one box and presto. Sports scores, you name it.

If anything, we should be glad to have old stuff like this bought and fully privatized. If it really matters, the market will let it survive and multiply as Darwin proved. That’s why I’m hoping all the libraries will let go of their books and just throw them into that search box. Then all that stuff that’s just wasting shelf space can serve a real public purpose as only Google knows best: selling ads on search pages.