Thursday, December 9, 2010

Digital Detritus

Here’s a question to all of you pre-Digital Era journalists out there: How are you reducing the fire load at home?

By that, I mean what are you doing with all of your newspaper clippings?

I hope today’s young journalists aren’t keeping physical clip files, but instead are archiving the PDF or Web versions of their papers and stories instead. If you’re not, stop collecting the paper clippings now and go digital, because before too long you’re going to want to go digital anyway.

I know I do. For the last five years, I’ve intermittently spent many an evening at the home computer, diligently scanning in my clipped stories. I’ve still got a stack about four inches thick to get through before my archiving is done and, to tell the truth, I’m not even sure it’s worth it. Do I really want to keep all of the boring stories I wrote about municipal government? The police reports? The stories people called me up afterwards about to scream at me?

Well, yeah. Just because I’m trying to go digital doesn’t mean I’m not still a pack rat. I most certainly am.

Have I preserved every little bit I’ve written? No. I remember, in fits of frustration, just taking a pile or a file to the wood stove and chucking it in. As I sit right now amidst my piles, I can hear the fires crackling. It’s very tempting to ditch it all.

That’s why I hope today’s journalists are keeping digital copies if they’re prone to packrattiness as I am. It’s a lot easier to stash a DVD or two in a desk drawer than it is to open up the packed filing cabinet drawer, look at the mouldering piles of newsprint and close the drawer again, all the while praying for some extremely localized but cataclysmic fire to come along and erase the question of whether you want to spend hours scanning all that mess into the computer or not.

I know I should. I really should. But if I haven’t looked at the paper archives since I left the industry in 2005, what are the chances I’m going to pore through the digital archives now? Slim to nil. And will my descendants care that I wrote probably 100,000 words on efforts in the city of Rexburg to build an outdoor pool? I don’t even have to answer that question.

Progress. I have made progress. Now, the things I know I want to keep, I scan almost immediately so there’s not this enormous backlog of paper to deal with in the future. And given that the stuff I’m writing and working on now is proprietary documentation, I’m not bothering to keep copies of the stuff, knowing that if I did, I’d be hunted down like Julian Assange and nobody wants that.

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