Nonprofits Take Steps to Protect Shuttered News Sites

The Internet Archive and Freedom of the Press Foundation are working together to archive digital news outlets threatened by legal or ownership issues. First on the list? Gawker and LA Weekly.

In the past few years, the online journalism landscape has lost a number of important voices. Now, a nonprofit group is taking steps to keep the archives of these publications online.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation announced this week that it would team with the Internet Archive to create a collection of online archives for sites that are in danger of going offline for various reasons.

Most famously, the news tabloid Gawker was shut down in 2016 after being sued by numerous parties, including former wrestler Hulk Hogan. But it isn’t the only shuttered publication with such a need. For example, Nicole Cliffe‏, the cofounder of popular humor blog The Toast, recently revealed that the site’s archives were likely to go offline. Additionally, the archives of DNAinfo, a hyperlocal news site, were briefly removed from the internet days after its employees voted to unionize, though the content was later put back online.

And even news outlets that haven’t shut down, like the alternative publication LA Weekly, have seen their staffs and ownership pictures change so dramatically that their archives were at risk of going offline or being modified by their new owners.

Gawker is currently up for sale, and billionaire investor Peter Thiel, who bankrolled the lawsuits that led to the site’s closure, is attempting to purchase its assets. Right-wing political figure Mike Cernovich, who frequently feuded with the site and its writers, has also put up a bid. Former Gawker journalists attempted to purchase the site by launching a Kickstarter campaign, but the crowdfunding effort failed.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s director of special projects, Parker Higgins, says that his organization wants to neutralize what he calls the “billionaire problem,” in which a new site owner may act to keep information from the public eye. More practically, the removal of these sites endangers the careers of journalists whose most notable works may be taken offline.

“[An] important thing we can do to reduce the effectiveness of this kind of attack on press freedom is to commit ourselves to the wholesale preservation of threatened sites,” Higgins wrote in a blog post this week. “In this case, we seek to reduce the ‘upside’ for wealthy individuals and organizations who would eliminate embarrassing or unflattering coverage by purchasing outlets outright.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation previously assisted with the recovery of data after the shutdown of the DNAinfo-owned Gothamist network of sites by launching a data recovery tool called “gotham-grabber.” Higgins says the group has already pulled full archives of Gawker and LA Weekly and is working on recovering the archives of The Toast.

The Internet Archive has given the foundation access to its Archive-It tool and will host the materials on its servers. It could also provide legal support if needed.

“They have a really strong track record of going to the mat on free speech things,” Higgins told Wired. “If there were more of a call to get stuff taken down from the Internet Archive, that would be alarming in all kinds of ways.”

The Internet Archive maintains a collection of “Threatened Outlets,” which currently includes LA Weekly and Gawker.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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