Although I’ve never met them, I owe them a debt of gratitude. So to the folks at Internet Archive, who run the web archive site Wayback Machine, a heartfelt thank you.
This is why.
A few days ago, when I was researching this piece for DeSmogBlog about the questionable coverage of climate change science by The Australian newspaper, I found that none of the links to my old News Ltd blog – GreenBlog – were working.
To be precise, the links worked, but there was no content on the pages. Just a white screen where about 650 posts and 14,000 comments used to be.
The record of an online blog session with then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? Gone. The full Q&A with former UN general secretary Kofi Annan? Gone. My catalogue of critiques of News Ltd’s climate denial bloggers, Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt? All gone.
There were several pieces where I had criticised The Australian’s coverage on climate change. They were gone too.
For example, there was a post which revealed how the Bureau of Meteorology’s most senior climatologist, Michael Coughlan, had told me the agency had given up attempting to correct the newspaper’s errors. He said at the time
The Australian clearly has an editorial policy. No matter how many times the scientific community refutes these arguments, they persist in putting them out – to the point where we believe there’s little to be gained in the use of our time in responding.
Some of my posts criticising The Australian also appeared on The Australian‘s website too, because the blog was eventually syndicated to other News Ltd online mastheads (although not all of them promoted the content). But when I tried to link to them, they were gone too.
I asked one of my old bosses at The Courier-Mail, which was the main host of the blog, what had happened. He told me that many old blogs had been “killed off” and that “regretfully” I should resign myself to the fact that all of that work had indeed now disappeared.
When I started the blog in June 2008, News Ltd had scores of bloggers covering all sorts of issues, but no-one was covering the environment round. There were no other active environment blogs on any other major metropolitan newspapers at the time either. News Ltd did have several commentators who were misrepresenting climate change science and generally disparaging of all-things vaguely greenie. Step forward Bolt, Blair, McCrann, Albrechtsen, Akerman et al. Part of the role of the blog, I felt, was to balance this out in a small way.
There were some rows. It occasionally got a bit personal. I received stacks of abusive messages and copped a great deal of flack, much of it in the comments sections which I used to moderate. Some pretty vile messages never saw the light of day. I wore the title “Dumbest Green Blogger in Australia” with a degree of pride, seeing as it had been bestowed by Andrew Bolt.
I recalled the blog’s record, and those of other climate change bloggers, for the magazine ECOS a few months after I resigned from News Ltd.
On a personal note, the blog was a big part of my life for 20 months (probably too big) and so to discover that it had been deleted was a bit of a shock, Of course the blog was the property of News Ltd, and so they could do with it whatever they liked. I’m not suggesting at all that my old blog was deliberately targeted for removal. But at the end of the day, I had no personal archive.
Ironically, while this blog (and these words) is being archived in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora web archive, my old News Ltd blog – which was more popular – wasn’t!
But then a contact of mine suggested I check with Wayback Machine. My first look showed the Internet Archive had only checked and crawled the main url 17 times over the course of the blog’s life, which didn’t sound promising.
But then I found Wayback Machine had visited a different url – the one which also recorded comments – more than 400 times.
Of course, these archives don’t show up well on internet searches and they’re not too easy to navigate. But most of the work is there and for that, I’m grateful.
I suppose this raises broader issues about the permanency of work online and what kind of a responsibility, if any, major news organisations have for archiving work that doesn’t get committed to a printed page. In this particular case, a not-for-profit organisation on a separate continent has filled the breach.
Perhaps an issue worth considering in the Government’s upcoming inquiry into Australian media?
UPDATE: Busted final link now working. Thanks to those reporting it.