Old News are Hard to Find

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana. It is too bad that a few decades old news articles are very hard to find by searching the internet.

Surely, if someone is looking for a specific article and knows the exact date of a publication, there is a reasonable chance that something useful will come up, either in text search, or possibly in image search. But, if someone is looking for a broad topic that was potentially covered by major newspapers of 1920s or 1930s, good luck.

Google made an effort in the past to digitize historical content. For some reason, this effort was abandoned. Currently, the chance of findings anything useful becomes exponentially lower with each added decade prior to 1970s or so.

This most likely reflects popularity contest that even history has to compete in today’s world. Google’s services are designed to engage as many people as possible. It is completely reasonable to concentrate on the current history and data. Most people will search for recent events and opinions. Just like it is unlikely that thoughts of lonely shepherd who lives in high mountains will not be found at the top of search results, it is unlikely that there is enough interest to justify expense of digitizing every article ever written.

Another way to look at this is a “doughnut hole” perspective, similar to Medicare not covering certain expenses of a sub-segment of population. If we count old philosopher’s writings as “news articles” we can say that it is really easy to find old writings that survived the test of time. But, millennia between 300AD to 1970AD gets left out. So, online new version of “history” only reflects the very old and the very new. Since the majority of searchable text is very new, even this result is heavily skewed to the more current event. The “doughnut” is not even symmetric.

For now, the only solution that a lonely shepherd has to find whether a topic was covered in the news of early twentieth century is to travel to a large city, visit a library, and read the paper version of the old news. Let’s hope that Fahrenheit 451 does not happen to those.

Old news are hard to find

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