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Let’s say you’re a public official. Or an engineer. Or a journalist researching a matter of importance, such as a new reservoir or a zoning change. What do you need?

In a word, facts. This should go without saying, but it bears saying because lots of facts are hard to find. They get lost. They decay. Worse, in their absence you get hearsay. Conjecture. Gossip. Mis and Dis information. Facts can also get distorted or excluded when they don’t fit a story. This is both a feature and a bug of storytelling. I reviewed this problem in

Stories
ORG

vs. Facts.

So how do we keep facts from decaying? How do we make them useful and accurate when future decisions require them?


Two
CARDINAL

ways.


One
CARDINAL

is by treating news as history. You do this by flowing news into well0-curated archives that remain accessible for the duration.

The other is to gather and produce facts that don’t make news but might someday—and flow those into curated archives as well.

In both cases, we are talking about facts that decision-makers may need to do their work, whether or not their work produces news.

So let’s start with history.


Timothy Snyder
PERSON

defines history as “what’s possible.” In his

Yale
ORG

lectures on

The Making of Modern Ukraine
WORK_OF_ART

, he also says history is discontinuity. By that, he means we give the most significance to moments of change, to times of transition. Elections. Wars. Disasters. Championships. And we tend to ignore what’s not making news in the meantime. We also tend to ignore the kind of news that just burbles along, not sounding especially historical, but is interesting to readers, watchers, and listeners—and might be relevant again. This is most of what gets reported by the obsessives who still produce local news. But how much of that stuff gets saved? And where?

Here in

Bloomington
GPE

,

Indiana
GPE

, the big industries for

more than a century
DATE

were limestone, furniture, and radio and television manufacture. Specifically,

The limestone industry is still large and likely to stay that way until demand for premium limestone goes away (my guess is

a few centuries from now
DATE

). The furniture industry came and went in

about seven decades
DATE

, but at its peak

Showers Brothers Furniture
ORG

produced a lion’s share of the affordable furniture sold in the

U.S.
GPE

In the Forties and Fifties, so many radios and TVs were made here that

Bloominngton
PERSON

for a time called itself “the color TV capitol of the world.”

If you haven’t seen

Breaking Away
WORK_OF_ART

yet, please do. Besides being

one
CARDINAL

of the greatest coming-of-age stories ever told, it’s an excellent look at

Bloomington
ORG

’s small-town/big university charms, plus its limestone industry and the people who worked in it, back when the quarries and the cutting plants were still right in town. (They’re still around, but out amidst the farmlands.)

In

Showers Brothers Furniture Company
ORG

: The Shared Fortunes of a Family, a City and a University (Quarry Books,

2012
DATE

),

Carol Krause
PERSON

gives a sense of how huge a business

Showers Brothers
ORG

was at the time:

Shipments averaged

seventy
CARDINAL

rail carloads per month. The sawmill daily cut

25,000 feet
QUANTITY

of lumber at that time and secured its lumber by purchasing large tracts of land and then logging them. This is undoubtedly part of the reason that so much of the land around

Monroe
GPE

and surrounding counties had been completely clear-cut early by

the twentieth century
DATE

.” (p.

121
CARDINAL

)

Her source for that was

the April 26, 1904
DATE

issue of

Bloomington Courier
ORG

, then

one
CARDINAL

of

two
CARDINAL

papers competing to serve a town of

about seven thousand
CARDINAL

people. But countless other bits of history are forever gone. In her notes about sources,

Krause
PERSON

writes,

The business records of the Showets company have unfortunately been lost, and only a handful of the

annual
DATE

furniture catalogs survive, despite

decades
DATE

of publication. We no longer have the training materials that the company distributed to its salesme, and we have virtually no remaining business correspondence. As for family papers, we possess only the handwritten memoir of

James Showers
PERSON

, the spiritual daybook of his mother,

Elizabeth
PERSON

, and a small handful of family photographs. There is also no comprehensive

Bomington
PERSON

history that sums up the major events or characters in the company’s history. Owing to the lack of records, this work relies largely upon accounts published in newspapers of the period. this record is fragmentary during

the early years
DATE

and we cannot consider any of it fully accurate or complete, because of the political partiality of the newspaper publishers. Nevertheless, newppaper records are the single largest remaining source of information available about the

Showers
PERSON

family and its company, so this book reflects

countless hours
TIME

spent at the microfilm machines at the public library, perusing the headlines of bygone times. (p. xv)


Bloomington
PERSON

is fortunate to have an unusually thick collection of factual resources in the

Monroe County
GPE

library system and history center. Without those,

Carol Krause
PERSON

probably wouldn’t have written her book at all. (Alas, she passed in

2014
DATE

. Here is a

Herald-Times
ORG

obituary.)

The best sources I’ve found for

Bloomington
ORG

’s history as a broadcasting town are

Bloomingpedia
GPE

and

Wikipedia
ORG

. From the former:

In

1940
DATE


RCA
ORG

moved a major manufacturing plant from

Camden
GPE

,

NJ
GPE

to

Bloomington
GPE

. The

1.5 million square foot
QUANTITY


RCA
ORG

plant, although originally planned to build radios, was converted to televisions when that technology became viable, and when the

first
ORDINAL

television came off the line on

September 6, 1949
DATE

, “

TV Day
DATE

” was declared in

Bloomington
GPE

. The plant was located on south

Rogers Street
FAC

, and produced

more than 65 million
MONEY

televisions over

the next 50 years
DATE

. The factory employed

over 8,000
CARDINAL

workers at its peak,

roughly 2%
PERCENT

of the entire

Bloomington
GPE

workforce, and also provided many jobs for industries servicing the plant.

Sarkes Tarzian
PERSON

, Inc. was among these. For a while,

Bloomington
ORG

called itself

the “Color Television Capital of the World
ORG

”. Labor unrest began to swirl in the

1960
DATE

’s. In

1964
DATE

5000 workers walked off the job over the protest of both management and union leaders. After

a week
DATE

, a new contract was approved and the workers returned to the assembly lines; but in

October of 1966
DATE

the workers stuck again, claiming the company was in violation of the union contract, and several violent scuffles were reported. In

1967
DATE

a

third
ORDINAL

, rather disorganized strike also took place. In

1968
DATE

,

over 2000
CARDINAL

people were laid off; mostly the young female workers that were considered to be most skilled at the delicate work of assembling televisions on the line.

RCA
ORG

was bought by

General Electric
ORG

in

1986
DATE

, then immediately sold to the

French
NORP

company

Thomson SA
ORG

, and rumors of the plant closing immediately began. On

April 1, 1998
DATE

, the last television rolled off the line and

Thomson
ORG

moved the plant to

Juarez
GPE

,

Mexico
GPE

, where

RCA
ORG

had had a small plant

as early as 1968
DATE

.

And from

Wikipedia
PERSON

:

The Sarkes Tarzian company was an important manufacturer of radio and television equipment, television tuners, and components. Its FM radio receivers helped to popularize the broadcast medium.

Sarkes Tarzian
PERSON

manufactured studio color TV cameras in the mid-1960s.[16] The manufacturing operations were spun off in

the 1970s
DATE

and

today
DATE

the company still exists as a broadcaster, owning several television and radio stations.

Gray Television
ORG

has owned a partial stake in

Sarkes Tarzian
PERSON

, Inc., since

the early 2000s
DATE

.

Those are all great sources, but the holes are bigger than the hills.

We also have a new situation on our hands, now that we are completing what

Jeff Jarvis
PERSON

calls

The Gutenberg Parenthesis
WORK_OF_ART

: the age of print. How do we best accumulate and curate useful facts in our still-new digital age?

Back in

2001
DATE

, my son

Allen
PERSON

astutely noted that

the World Wide Web
ORG

was splitting between what he called

the Static Web and the Live Web
WORK_OF_ART

. Here is what I wrote about the former in the

October 2005
DATE

edition of

Linux Journal
ORG

:

There’s a split in the Web. It’s been there from the beginning, like an elm grown from a seed that carried the promise of a trunk that forks

twenty feet
QUANTITY

up toward the sky. The main trunk is the static Web. We understand and describe the static Web in terms of real estate. It has “sites” with “addresses” and “locations” in “domains” we “develop” with the help of “architects”, “designers” and “builders”. Like homes and office buildings, our sites have “visitors” unless, of course, they are “under construction”.

One
CARDINAL

layer down, we describe the Net in terms of shipping. “Transport” protocols govern the “routing” of “packets” between end points where unpacked data resides in “storage”. Back when we still spoke of the Net as an “information highway”, we used “information” to label the goods we stored on our hard drives and Web sites.

Today
DATE

“information” has become passé. Instead we call it “content”. Publishers, broadcasters and educators are now all in the business of “delivering content”. Many Web sites are now organized by “content management systems”. The word content connotes substance. It’s a material that can be made, shaped, bought, sold, shipped, stored and combined with other material. “Content” is less human than “information” and less technical than “data”, and more handy than either. Like “solution” or the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can use it anywhere, though it adds no other value. I’ve often written about the problems that arise when we reduce human expression to cargo, but that’s not where I’m going this time. Instead I’m making the simple point that large portions of the Web are either static or conveniently understood in static terms that reduce everything within it to a form that is easily managed, easily searched, easily understood: sites, transport, content.

At the time I thought—we all thought—that the Live Web was blogs. But then social media came along, mostly in the forms of

Twitter
ORG

and

Facebook
ORG

. After Technorati (which I had a hand in creating) began to index the Live Web of RSS feeds,

Google
ORG

also began to index the whole Web in real time, and soon began to supply the world with live information such as traffic densities on maps in apps running on hand-held phones connected to the Internet full time.

As I shared in

Deep News
WORK_OF_ART

.,

Dave Askins
PERSON

of

the B Square Bulletin
ORG

would like us to create a “digital file repository”—” a place where anyone—journalists, public officials, and residents of all stripes—can upload digital files, so that others can have access to those files now and until the end of time. It can also serve as a backup for files that the city has made public on its website, but could remove at any time.”


Dave
PERSON

has also added

Monroe County
GPE

(including

Bloomington
GPE

) to

LocalWiki
PRODUCT

, which is

Wikipedia
ORG

’s place for places to have their own wikis, including digital file repositories. I’ve contributed a local media section.

To put all this in perspective, read

CNET
ORG

Deletes

Thousands
CARDINAL

of Old Articles to Game Google Search, subtitled, “

Google
ORG

says deleting old pages to bamboozle

Search
ORG

is ‘not a thing!’ as

CNET
ORG

erases its history.” Here’s the money graf:

“Removing content from our site is not a decision we take lightly. Our teams analyze many data points to determine whether there are pages on

CNET
ORG

that are not currently serving a meaningful audience. This is an industry-wide best practice for large sites like ours that are primarily driven by SEO traffic,” said

Taylor Canada
PERSON

,

CNET
ORG

’s senior director of marketing and communications. “In an ideal world, we would leave all of our content on our site in perpetuity. Unfortunately, we are penalized by the modern internet for leaving all previously published content live on our site.”

This is the exact opposite of deep news. It’s about as shallow as can be.

Not that

Google
ORG

is much deeper. I have a number of pages here that contain a unique word—kind of an Easter egg—that

Google
ORG

used to find if I searched for it. Now

Google
ORG

doesn’t. Why? whatever the reason, it is clear that

Google
ORG

is optimized for now rather than then.

So we need to start creating deep and archival ways that serve meaning across time.

I have a lot more to say about this, but want to get what I have so far up on the blog, where others can help improve the post. Meanwhile a bonus link:


The Incredible Story Of
WORK_OF_ART


Marion Stokes
PERSON

, Who Single-Handedly Taped

35 Years
DATE

Of TV News