Six years ago, NewWest.net brought a new kind of journalism to Missoula and the Rocky Mountain West. The site reported on the region—its real estate boom and dramatic bust; its political landscape, cross-boundary wildlife and land-use issues; and its literary scene.
But now, all of NewWest.net's content—thousands of articles that tell the story of an important period in the West's evolution—is about to disappear.
NewWest.net went down a few months ago after succumbing to financial difficulties. It was replaced by a note to readers suggesting the site could soon be revived. Not so. Recently, the company's founders told its many former contributors, Indy writers among them, that the site would go live for a short time to allow them to retrieve articles they'd written. After that, its archives will be gone for good, at least for those browsing the web.
What a huge loss.
It also shows that the library system hasn't kept up with journalism's shift to the web.
"I really don't think it has," says Honore Bray, of the Missoula Public Library. She says the library only archives the Missoulian (why it doesn't archive the Indy is a topic for another day). Server space is expensive, she says (and shuttered web-based businesses can't afford to keep content up for perpetuity).
With so much journalism and storytelling residing on the web now, maybe it's time for digital public libraries, where communities' digital news can be accessible forever. Bray tells of an effort akin to that, the Montana Memory Project, supported by the Montana State Library and Montana Historical Society, although it's limited to digitizing historic material relating to Montana's cultural history and government.
Then too, even digital archives aren't perfect (just ask our IT guy, who's still recovering from the Indy's server meltdown last month). That's why, according to Bray, the American Library Association fought the Library of Congress's move to digital. The fear, she says, was that "things would be lost through time because there wouldn't be hard copies."
And so, here we are, hoping that if NewWest.net can't make a comeback, at least its archives can. The site was a pioneer in putting news on the web. We never thought it would also show us what's lost when news leaves the web.