A $35,000 grant from the Knight News Chal­lenge on libraries will help University of Missouri Libraries and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute develop a long-term model to protect born-digital news content from being lost forever.

Monetizing newspaper content is one approach to saving the nation’s first draft of history, said Edward McCain, digital curator of journalism at MU Libraries and RJI.

He will lead the Knight-funded effort to test assumptions about the preservation and monetization of small-newspaper archives.

“Testing the assumptions will help determine if small newspapers can monetize content by licensing it for use by researchers,” said McCain, who also helms the Journalism Digital News Archive initiative at MU.

Assumptions to be tested include:

• News archives from small newspapers have value.

• Researchers are interested in accessing content from small newspapers.

• Small newspapers are interested in knowing more about the content held in their archives.

• Content analysis will help the team understand what’s contained in born-digital news archives.

“By conducting a relatively inexpensive and quick test of key assumptions, we can rapidly determine if more resources should be employed to further develop this model,” he said.

First, researchers must determine the nature of content that currently exists in the archives of a selection of smaller, non-metro U.S. newspapers. The team will work with the Missouri Press Association, Newz Group, TownNews.com and other partners to gain access to these archives.

DocumentCloud, which was funded by an earlier Knight News Challenge grant, will help test a possible new way to conduct content analysis on digital documents.

The second step will involve determining the customer market for community news content. McCain and MU Libraries, as well as faculty and graduate students at the university, will determine if there is a potential market for the content in the academic research community.

According to McCain, the team is choosing to focus its attention on smaller papers because many metro papers already have marketing agreements in place with organizations such as Lexis Nexus and ProQuest to monetize their content from the past.

McCain hypothesizes that many small newspapers don’t have a clear understanding of how much or what kind of digital content they have stored – or how it has been backed up at organizations such as townnews.com or Newz Group.

Preserving content is important for helping inform communities about what happened in their area at the local, regional and national levels and helping democracy function well, said McCain.

– Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute