How Writers Can Recover Lost Articles When Websites Get Completely Destroyed

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Writers at any stage in their careers live and die by their clips. The fact that many media companies vanish into thin air means that the articles people write can vaporize along with their publishers’ websites with little-to-no advance notice. So if you’re a freelance writer who relies on clips and one of your previous employers goes belly up, how do you find your clips after they’re seemingly lost?

As luck would have it, I have been dealing with this exact situation for more than a decade. MTV Multiplayer, Wizard Magazine, and a handful of other places I used to write for on a daily basis just flat out don’t exist anymore. In fact, last year after Stan Lee died, I found myself chatting with my former editor Rick Marshall about the times we talked to the guy, and Rick brought up an old interview series we put together where comic book legend Brian Michael Bendis interviewed Stan. I nudged Rick over to the same place I always go to salvage vanished clips: the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

That recovery effort was more for nostalgia than anything else, but when you work in media, these pieces are literally parts of a professional portfolio, and it’s always a shame when you can’t share them in their original digital context. Responsible professional writers will tell you that you should always keep PDF files, screen caps, or other records of any article you publish that’s worth sharing at a later date. Let’s face it, though, no one is on the ball about that stuff 100% of the time. Fortunately for the times when you drop the ball completely, the Wayback Machine exists.

It’s an easy tool to use. You simply plug in a URL, look at a calendar of saved states that the Wayback Machine has captured, and then click on dates to view those states. That said, finding a specific article to recover can occasionally require a few steps. So here’s what to do based on what you have available:

If you have a previously functioning direct link: This is by far the simplest and most direct route to your clip. Paste that link directly into the Wayback Machine’s search field. Then, your old article will be on your monitor in a matter of seconds. You may even get to view it from different days with different ads displayed around it to remind of you of all the sweet, sweet advertising revenue your former employer was pulling in.

If you remember the approximate date when it was published: This can take a little longer, but if you know this, you can search in the Wayback Machine using the website’s homepage URL. Then, look for dates on the calendar that might correspond with when your story went live. Once you see the right date and view the homepage’s saved state, you can look for the headline and/or featured image that were used to promote your article. At that point, you’ll either be able to click on the link and find your story or at the very least be able to retrieve a direct link (which you can extract and run through the Machine by itself). At that point, you should be in good shape.

If you only remember the title, or — at the very least — details and words or phrases related to the article: This may significantly extend your journey, but please, let me tell you that I have searched for things I only vaguely remembered writing. I have also searched for articles being not totally sure whether my original drafts ever went to publication. I have even searched for things to verify that I actually wrote them and didn’t just have a good idea at one point that never materialized into full sentences.

If you find yourself in this situation, start Googling. I have found links on Wikipedia. I have found links from other people’s blogs and news sites. And I have found links from message boards that remain in existence for no justifiable purpose. If you wrote something that anyone anywhere cared about, the good news for you is that a little bit of Google fu can find the record of them caring about it and you can use that record to find a hyperlink with a URL that you can hand to the Wayback Machine.

So let me conclude by simply saying, Thank you Internet Archive and Wayback Machine. For all of the writers and other creatives whose professional lives have happened online, this tool is basically a fist full of magic wands. Long may it live.