When 18 months’ worth of work vanishes

My old employer doesn’t want to keep our archives online. Does that affect anyone besides those of us who worked there?

Sometime soon, TBD.com will finally vanish from this earth. That’s hardly a surprise: The Washington, D.C.-area news site, started by the Allbritton Communications Company in 2010, died conclusively last August, when its URL started redirecting to WJLA.com, the website of an Allbritton-owned TV station with which TBD shared office space and editorial resources.

But its archives were still online, a zombie-like reminder of the site’s prolonged, never-fulfilled promise and prolonged, inauspicious end. After the redirect last August, WJLA General Manager Bill Lord told me in an email, “I suspect [the archives] will stay in place for quite some time but I can never be sure.”

I was TBD’s arts editor, and I’d been meaning to save pieces I’d written and edited for the site, but the inconvenience of the task pushed it to the depths of my to-do list. Author search no longer works on the site, so I’d have to remember everything I wrote and edited, then manually make PDFs. (I tried a site called Pressfolios, but TBD stories’ extreme pagination meant it saved only the first page of each longer story, and it’s easy enough to just save the things on my computer.)

So when a former colleague noticed last week that the archives had vanished without notice, I was as irritated with myself as I was with WJLA, whose digital director gloated on Twitter that deleting TBD’s archives “made me feel better.” There was some further back-and-forth on Twitter, and Lord and I exchanged polite emails, and then WJLA agreed to turn TBD’s archives back on for a little while so my former colleagues and I could grab our work.

I’ve started doing that, but it doesn’t feel like an adequate solution.

TBD failed rather spectacularly, and I’m not interested in arguing whose fault that was. I just want my work back.

That’s not WJLA’s problem — they want this chapter of their history closed, and whether or not that’s the decision I’d make, it’s their ball and they’re free to take it home. I do, however, feel the reporting we did should remain accessible. We told the stories of some people in town, broke some news, tried out what were at the time new storytelling forms (obviously, there’s no sense to linking to any examples!).

Robert Allbritton, the company’s CEO, hasn’t returned an email from me asking whether his company would just give the archives to those of us who feel what we did there was worth preserving. I’d like to keep them alive somehow, somewhere. I’m still hopeful I’ll hear back.

We did a lot of silly stuff at TBD, but we did a lot of good work, too, and for all that effort to end up as PDFs in folders on various computers is a shabby ending, even by the standards of the last few shabby endings TBD.com had.

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