How many of you read George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in school?
Winston Smith, the story’s protagonist, works in London at the Ministry of Truth rewriting news articles, revising history in support of the ever-changing Party narrative. Newly written articles, doctored photos and other tampered evidence replace originals; previous documentation must be erased. The author describes the process:“In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. … The last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.”
Today we face a very real memory hole of our own making, especially when it comes to journalism. The past five decades have manifested a sea change in the way news content is produced, distributed and preserved. The move from analog to digital has disrupted the print and broadcast revenue models and seems likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Just as these legacy economic models have been upended, the old ways of preserving and maintaining access to journalistic content are in flux.