Monday, May 11, 2009

Rewriting history at college newspaper sites

Both of Radford's student publications, The Tartan and Whim ( and, have changed content-management platforms in the past year, complicating the matter of finding things in their archives.

At first I thought that was a shame, because past contributors might have links to online-edition stories in their resumes or on their personal sites, or might want to retrieve stories or artwork to send to prospective employers. With the changes in publishing systems over the years, some links to individual pages still work, while links to "section" or front pages don't. Some stories may be gone because of redirected addresses.

There may be a bright side to missing archives: At least they can't do the student journalist's career any damage in the future, as reflected in this trend-story from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Alumni Try to Rewrite History on College-Newspaper Web Sites.

The RU publications have good intentions about preserving their history and resurrecting their archives, but the process hasn't been rapid. Whim has carried a notice that "An archive of previous versions of Whim is forthcoming" since its change to publishing with WordPress last fall. Back then, I tracked down any archives I could.

However, Google was archiving stories from both publications through their homegrown flat-file editions to those done with the Absolut and WordPress php-based systems, which means plenty of old stories still can be found -- something I point out to news writing students as the modern equivalent of the old "check the clips in the morgue" routine and dead-tree newspapers.

While both publications own their own domains ( and, the pages are actually served from the domain, usually the PHP server at As a result a Google "site:" search of the university domain with the name of the publication or a search keyword can be effective, so I guess student reporters' bylines also could be used by an employer browsing for stories by a job applicant.

For example, a search will produce plenty of stories about past years' editions of the annual off-campus revelry called "Quadfest" (because it was once on-campus). The Google search strings look like this: or
(A more refined search might eliminate stories that use "whim" or "tartan" as something other than publication names, but you get the idea.)

Similarly, Google can search the regional daily, The Roanoke Times, whose own search engine has had its problems, although it does a reasonable job "quadfest." Perhaps it has been fixed, even if it doesn't let me save a link to the search results. With Google, it's Result: What do you know -- the RTimes had an editorial that said the party wasn't all that bad!

(Thanks to Bryan Murley, Steve Yelvington and other folks on Twitter for pointing to the Chronicle of Higher Education story. I really should renew my subscription.)