Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Herald Archives: an appeal to logic

One of the things Herald Watch has been crusading for is a free electronic archive for the Heralds. I can't take credit for the idea, I got it from Alesh at As a last ditch effort I thought I'd express a clear rationale for doing so.

It's often said that journalists write the first draft of history, and it's true. Historians often go to the library and conduct research on historical events by looking at microfiche copies of old newspapers. Libraries were really the only institutions with the resources to store such things. So you had a product that had two potential uses. The primary one was to inform readers about events of the day and the secondary one was a reference for future generations.

During the early 1980s, most newspapers began a conversion to computers. Articles could be stored electronically. That's why the Herald's electronic archives goes back to 1982. The Washington Post's and New York Times' electronic archives likewise go back to the 80s.

But the internet has created a new class of consumers for newspaper content. That class consists of bloggers, amateur historians and otherwise curious web surfers. These are people who, for the most part, aren't going to sift through reels of microfiche searching for a story that may or may not exist.

The Herald has a searchable electronic archive but you can only see a brief citation of the articles that your search returns. You must pay to be able to read the actual articles. To my way of thinking, this is ass-backwards.

Let's take a minute to discuss advertising and where it fits in. Newspapers, though sold to readers, have always been subsidized by advertising revenue. Advertisers have historically used newspapers in order to reach large numbers of consumers. If you were Burdine's and were having a big sale you might have purchased a full page ad in Section A of the local paper. The shelf life of that paper and thus the ad was a couple of days max. That's because the next day brings a new newspaper and yesterday's news is relatively worthless to the primary newspaper consumer. Now if I go to the library and pull up a Miami Herald from 1955, I not only get to see the articles but also the ads, many for companies that don't even exist anymore. It's a sort of time capsule, which is cool but not exactly valuable to the Herald. They get no incremental revenue from it.

Which brings us to the electronic archives. Just like the printed paper, the main site is supported by ads. But the archives are not, instead relying on the aforementioned "pay per view" system. Now imagine having historical content (like the kind you'd find at the library) and being able to serve it to this growing class of information consumers along with current advertising. It's like airing re-runs that you own the rights to and getting to sell the advertising all over again.

The public has found that there is value to "yesterday's news" if it can be accessed efficiently. The Miami Herald is no longer simply a newspaper. It's a CONTENT PROVIDER (to borrow a phrase). Whether that content is two days old, two years old, or two decades old, the Herald's mission should be to find ways and places for its content, its consumers and its advertisers to meet not to put barriers in between them.

Recently I have penned several opinion pieces for In one of them, I scrutinize Herald coverage of the Cuban exile community. My editor wanted me to link to the Herald articles in question which date back to 1983. The problem is that the articles are behind a paid firewall (I was able to obtain the articles for free at the Miami-Dade County Public Libraries' web site, which is free but a chore). I instead linked to the Herald's citation for each article. I doubt a single reader paid for the articles I linked to, though some might have read them if they were free. Potential eyeballs to serve advertising to.

The very idea of the "World Wide Web" is that sites link to each other making information more accessible. And the Herald is doing its best to make its content inaccessible.


Anonymous said...

If managed properly their public archives could be very profitable. Their archive is at times the only place to go to find info South Florida history so why give that valuable resource away for free. I understand your point of view but as a historian/researcher if I had the power to make that decision I would still make people pay for it.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

I'm sorry but I think you are wrong and other major newspapers and magazines think you are wrong. The internet model is to have a big a footprint on the web as possible with which to catch readers.

It's precisely because "Their archive is at times the only place to go to find info South Florida history" that it's valuable content.

Advertisers are looking for outlets with more readers. The Herald has locked a rich source of content behind a wall that very very few people will penetrate. Imagine all the inbound links to if its archives were searchable and readable.

Anonymous said...

Reponse: If you look at successful models like the NYT, which charges for their archives, you will realize that there is a huge premium for this kind of information and people will pay for it. What you say about traffic and advertising may seem obvious but the herald hasn’t been able to figure out how to make online ad revenues significantly profitable. Why would the archives be any different?

I used to work at a news library in a market similar to the Herald’s and our archives made a lot of money not just from people buying single stories but also from contracts with journal databases like Nexis and Factiva. Maybe giving away the archives would provide more exposure but I don't think at this point it would be profitable for them.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

The vast majority of the NYT archives is available free of charge. I just did a search for "Hurricane Andrew" using the dates of August 1 to September 1 1992 and found literally dozens of articles, all free. They serve ads at the top and in the sidebar. What you are saying doesn't make sense. Additional readers is what drives ad sales. I posit that the reason online doesn't generate enough revenue is that they are fighting with arm tied behind their back. The content that would be very attractive to online users is off limits.

If they don't get their online act together there going to be more than 230 expected layoffs. Print WILL be radically different in five years. It will be only a small part of the newspaper business.

Anonymous said...

The Herald archives should be at least be offered free to subscribers. That's the approach the New York Times has taken and its archives go back to 1862. It is a tremendous help for researching.

Making archives availble for free will increase traffic on the Herald web site. What are they afraid of?

Henry Louis Gomez said...

I am not a NYT subscriber and I'm telling you that I can access the vast majority of their archived articles for free.

Anonymous said...

This is the link to the NYT archives:

Henry- You are somewhat correct, the archives are free back to 1987.
This is only for stories not photos or graphics. The rest is
fee-based. So 20 years of archives are free and 65 years worth of archives are fee based (Articles in the Public Domain 1851-1922 are free) If it was more profitable for them to offer free archives why would they have 65 years worth of them fee based? The reality is that digitalizing this content costs millions of dollars and no one is going to spend that kind of money to give the end product away for free.

There will be layoffs no matter what and the lack of free archives have nothing to do with that. And if they have anything to be afraid of is not that readers get free access to the archives but that they will (probably) breach some contract clause with a huge archiving company like Proquest or Nexis. These companies send royalties to publications every time someone opens one of their stories in the database. Talk about revenue.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Last anon,

I posted a link right to the NYT archive in the post.

Yes you can go back about 21 years and see stories with no pics or graphics. The Herald archives don't offer pics or graphics either but they charge for every item.

Understood about the content from before the digital age. I'm not asking the Herald to digitize all that content and make it freely available. I'm talking about radically expanding the size of their public web site to draw users. If I want to read an article about Hurricane Andrew or Elian Gonzalez why would I pay for one from the Herald when the NYT and WaPo have them for free.

Yes, layoffs are coming no matter what. I never said this would avoid that. It's just another symptom of a management that doesn't have a clear direction or understanding of the business it currently finds itself in. The content business. Every top web site on the net is ad supported and free. Period.

Rick said...

And the airlines should begin offering 3 course meals, free of charge, to their customers, too.

As much as you highlight and apparently take great interest in the Herald's slow demise, Henry, I find it somewhat interesting that you would advocate their giving away another service that produces revenue for them. Now THAT doesn't make sense in these times.

While I agree that it would be nice that some archival information is available online [say 5-10 years worth], the revenue generated from the ads that come up when researchers, mostly professional in nature I would imagine, are working on a project and are in the archives would be minuscule, in my opinion. But that's just my guess. Apparently you have the figures of what these ads generate in dollars for the Herald and have determined that it is indeed a great way for them to make some money. Right?

Like the 3 course meal on that flight to New York, it sure would be nice to have that luxury "free of charge." But the way things are going for both industries, it's unreasonable to expect either one to start offering freebies to their customers any time soon.


Henry Louis Gomez said...

Rick, I'm not advocating giving away something for free. I'm advocating an advertiser model that the leading papers in America have adopted. Meanwhile the Heralds continue to lead the country in circulation declines. Obviously the current management strategy isn't working. If I said that that the pay per view strategy was genius you'd take the other side because, well because you are you. Have a great day.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Plus the fact that if you had read the post you'd know that Herald articles are being given away for free by the Miami-Dade Public Library system on their web site. The Herald derives zero financial benefit from it and that's where serious researchers would go.

You can't say that the a free ad supported archive would result in a revenue loss UNLESS you knew how much the current model pays and could make a projection about how much traffic and ad revenue the archives would generate. Until you have such numbers, you're talking out of your ass.

But that's par for the course.

Anonymous said...

Henry, the content you get from the Miami Dade Public Library is not 'free' at all. That content is provided by a company called Newsbank and the Miami Herald has a contract with them. It may be appear 'free' to you but the Public Library pays a fee for access to that database. The Public Library pays a fee for ALL of those 'free' resources, including Dialog, Reference USA, Newsbank, ect. Period.

Fee based archives are big business, get over it.

Rick said...

You want to get nasty? Fine, Henry. I can go that route, too.

You can't say that the a free ad supported archive would result in a revenue loss UNLESS you knew how much the current model pays and could make a projection about how much traffic and ad revenue the archives would generate.

Okay, superstar, give me the numbers that support your argument. You show me the research you've done that shows me the traffic and ad revenue that opening up the archives would make. Otherwise YOU, my friend, are talking out of your ass. At least I admit my thinking is a "guess."

Obviously the current management strategy isn't working.

And that's because the archives are pay access? Really? Is there proof of that? Or are you just talking out of your ass again, Gomez?

Where is YOUR proof? Where are YOUR numbers?


Henry Louis Gomez said...

Hey fuckhead, you're so predictable it's not even funny. You did not say you were guessing. You talked like the Herald archive is a veritable treasure trove for the Herald, laying golden eggs. The fact remains that the New York Times is the most visited newspaper web site in the country. And they provide the vast majority of their articles from the last 21 years free of charge.

USA Today is the second most visited Newspaper Web site and they allow you to read articles going back at least a couple of years without having to pay for them.

The Washington Post is the third most visited newspaper web site and they provide about 20 years worth of articles free.

The Boston Globe is the country's 6th most visited newspaper web site and they provide at least four years worth of free archives.

The San Francisco Chronicle is the 8th most visited Newspaper web site and provides free archives dating back to 1995.

Newsweek magazine provides archives dating back to at least 1992, for free.

U.S. News and world report likewise offers a free archive that dates back to at least 1992.

I guess the Herald know and McClatchy know better.

I'm not saying that free archives are going to save the Herald. Only a dishonest douchebag like yourself would read that into what I wrote.

It's a symptom of a management that doesn't know what the fuck it is doing.


Yes the library system pays fees for those articles. I pay for the library with my taxes. All the more reason to NOT pay the Herald $3 for an article. I'm already paying for them (whether I look at them or not And my tax bill doesn't go up if I look at too many Herald articles).

You get over it. The good news is that I'm not going anywhere. We'll see what happens.

Anonymous said...

I access eveything the Herald has printed for the past 25 years for free and I'm going to share my secret!

I have a Miami-Dade County library card!!

Anyone who has a library card can access anyhthing from the Herald just by going to and then clicking on "Databases"

You can also access archives from dozens if not hundreds of other newspapers also. And all for free!

If you don't have a library card you an get one for FREE!!

You don't even have to go to the library. Just apply online.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Yes, Anon. I mentioned that in my post. I guess nobody really reads anything anymore.

The point of the post isn't my disappointment at not being able to access the info. I, like you, use the MDPLS web site to get it. The point was to point out how idiotic it is to have a paid archive model. It hurts the paper.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Oh and Shitdick Rick. I can be much nastier than you when I want to be. Luckily for you I have much more rewarding things to do with my time than tear you a new asshole.

Rick said...

While I agree that it would be nice that some archival information is available online [say 5-10 years worth], the revenue generated from the ads that come up when researchers, mostly professional in nature I would imagine, are working on a project and are in the archives would be minuscule, in my opinion. But that's just my guess.

Yeah, you're right. No one reads anymore.


Henry Louis Gomez said...

Dickface, you state that the ad revenue from free archives would be "miniscule" then throw in "that's just my guess." Which is the same exact thing as talking out of your ass. Which is exactly what I accused you of.

Don't you have some collies to molest or something?

Anonymous said...

Wow, how did this get so petty? Henry this whole archive discussion was interesting and, even though I believe that the archives should be fee based, I think you have a point worth exploring. Maybe the NYT hybrid archive model is better (even though I know that the big money is made in the 65 years worth of fee based archives.)

To quote the Big Lebowski I think that when it comes to this issue Henry “you’re out of your element.”

Henry Louis Gomez said...


Perhaps it has gotten too petty. I guarantee that it wouldn't have if not for the appearance of the pontiff.

And I may be out of my element. What do I know? I only get paid to generate ideas and my job is secure.

Just consider that every major informational web site out there like slate or salon has free archives. It doesn't make sense to start charging for an article that you originally gave away for free.

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