Black bars with the words for the record

For the Record: The battle to preserve the online archives of now-shuttered newsrooms

Written by
Edited by Derek Kravitz

The DCist.


The Messenger.

In just the past few months, several once-flourishing newsrooms have closed and, with them, thousands of articles documenting everything from D.C.’s Black Lives Matter mural to underground Christian nationalist groups now carry an invisible asterisk: What happens to all of these stories once their websites are gone for good?

The DCist, acquired by WAMU and American University in 2018, provided local news coverage of the District of Columbia until WAMU announced the shuttering of the site last month, and the layoffs of 15 employees. Soon after the announcement, the DCist website went dark.

After a public outcry, led in part by WAMU’s union, the station announced the launch of a public archive of the DCist that will be available for one year, as it searches for a “long-term home” for it.

When asked about potential long-term plans for the DCist archive, a spokesperson for WAMU declined to comment until “they have more to share.”

In the same month, Vice Media CEO Bruce Dixon announced it will no longer publish on, with hundreds of reporters being laid off in the process. In Dixon’s announcement, there was no mention of how, or if, Vice Media would preserve years’ worth of articles from its site.

VICE Media didn’t respond to a request for comment about archiving its website.

The Messenger, a digital news startup for “trusted and unbiased news and information” launched by Jimmy Finkelstein, the former owner of The Hill, closed after just eight months, leaving reporters without their promised severance and its website devoid of hundreds of articles. Just the newsroom’s name and contact email remains. Some, but not all, of The Messenger’s stories have been preserved on Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

Mike Stucka, former national data solutions editor for USA TODAY, worked on preserving The Messenger to the Wayback Machine but said that “by the time that things went under, it was too late to send anything to Wayback.”

“So there’s almost certainly some articles missing that cannot be recovered.”

Representatives of The Messenger didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding their plans to archive the site, but Finkelstein told Axios that he is “actually considering opening [the website] up again” to make its journalism accessible again, without providing any further details.

Relying on defunct media organizations to preserve their online archives is not ideal, given the whims of their owners, Stucka said. “Depending on the benevolence of somebody who’d already turned something off and then maybe reconsidered … is not a viable solution for journalists.”

Archives, like Ben Welsh’s Save My News and The News Homepage Archive, once provided tools to preserve the work of journalists, but even those tools have their own limitations.

Save My News provided journalists with a personal, permanent clipping service, but because of the API changes at X, formerly Twitter, the site was discontinued.

For Stucka, the question of how news is preserved extends far beyond the big-name closures, and to the more than 2,000 newsrooms that have shuttered since 2005.

“How many of these are lower profile than Vice, for example, that will slip under the waves and all that work may be gone for local historians, civil activists and the writers themselves,” he said.

The Update

  • Remembering Fazil Khan: The Hechinger Report remembers Fazil Khan, an exceptional data journalist dedicated to exposing injustice. Khan, who died Feb. 23 at the age of 27 in a fire started in his Harlem apartment building by a lithium-ion battery, reported on how many colleges were raising their net prices for their poorest students and how the richest students pay less than their lower-income classmates.

  • How journalists can support the PRESS Act: The Society of Professional Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Foundation are hosting an off-the-record discussion on how journalists can support the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying, or PRESS, Act — a bill that would bar federal law enforcement from surveilling journalists and limit when the government can force a journalist to disclose their sources.

  • FOIA case win in Oregon against Nike: U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo ruled in favor of The Oregonian/OregonLive in a legal dispute over documents accidentally released to the news organization as part of a high-profile sexual discrimination lawsuit against Nike.

  • The City of Richmond accused of violating FOIA: Whistleblower Connie Clay alleged that Richmond City Hall has routinely violated state rules regarding how various departments should respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, reports Tyler Layne and Mike Bergazzi for WTVR/CBS 6 Richmond.

FOIA Finds

  • The $12 million cost of Secret Service protection: John Bolton and Robert O’Brien, two former national security advisers in the Trump administration, requested ongoing U.S. Secret Service protection after they had left their government positions.The additional year of Secret Service protection cost taxpayers more than $12 million, report Shachar Bar-On and Jinsol Jung for 60 Minutes. The records were obtained by 60 Minutes through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the U.S. Secret Service.

  • Anti-abortion activists pressure New Mexican officials: Emails obtained from public records requests from Democracy Forward found that former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell and Mark Lee Dickson, founder of the “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn” initiative, have pressured officials in New Mexico to pass ordinances restricting clinics that perform abortions, reports Austin Fisher in Source NM.

  • Tech billionaire buying up land in Hawaii: Public records reveal that Marc Benioff, the billionaire co-founder of Salesforce, is buying up properties in a rural residential town in Waimea, Hawaii, and paying far more than current market value, reports Dara Kerr in NPR. Benioff has bought up hundreds of acres of land in the area, alarming many locals.