How far back and how reliable is the record of our city history? Or any city, for that matter.
From #HeritageBeku at Bengaluru, we go back and forth on data and information needed. Photographs are especially critical. Access to newspaper archives especially state and city centric newspapers like Deccan Herald, Prajavani, Hindu etc are invaluable. In a tech city like Bengaluru, we take availability and access to digital content for granted.
Yet in a casual conversation with a friend and journalist, I was surprised that most of our Bangalore newspapers are not yet fully archived and accessible. Digital archives start only from around 2000. The question of cost model or subscription should be is secondary. I presume most of the archives are on micro fische and digitized but how is this vast data organised, accessible and searchable to us? Look at places like Britain where vast amounts of news, records, images and data are available in various libraries and organisations, serving a vast army of researchers , historians , academics and others.
Bangaloreans are passionate about their city, its history and its stories. Being able to access images, facts, dates and city milestones can hugely help a city that needs to be rooted in its past in order to carve out and influence its future. Perhaps we need to remind governments, foundations, think tanks and publications how important this is for a city and citizens and to allot the necessary time and resources to preserve , convert and access its past media and news. Don’t we own our collective past? Should we not pass it on to the next generations?
The legal, financial, operational, dissemination, technology, best practices, stakeholders etc aspects can be discussed in detail and fleshed out, but the in-principle agreement that we should have this in place is what I think we need right away . Technology firms have shown interest in archives - and Google funded a local newspaper archive in the UK in 2019 with Archant
I did some basic research and this is what I found.
Wikipedia says this about worldwide newspaper archiving:
'Most are scanned from microfilm into pdf, gif or similar graphic formats and many of the graphic archives have been indexed into searchable text databases utilizing optical character recognition (OCR) technology. Some newspapers do not allow access to the OCR-converted text until it is proofread. Older newspapers are still in image format, and newer newspapers are available as full text that can be cut and pasted. Most text is in ASCII, some are using Unicode for diacritical marks not available in ASCII.
Some local public libraries subscribe to certain online newspaper archives. For instance, some UK public libraries subscribe to The Times Digital Archive and any member of one of these libraries is able to access this resource free from their home computer using their library card number. In many instances, library access may be restricted to in-building use, in the confines of the library itself, and not a service otherwise available away from that structure to cardholders.'
In India these seem to be the only ones , states Wikipedia , and most newspapers are archived from primarily 2000 onwards only
The Sunday Street
CBI Roundup/IBT Roundup/Chota Roundup (1942-1946) Free (transcribed to text, most international articles left out)
Hicky's Bengal Gazette (1781) Free
The Hindu (2000– )
The Indian Express (2002– )
The Indian Express (1933–1994) via Google News Archive
Indian online newspaper and journal portal (1785–2003)
The Telegraph (1999– )
The Times of India (2001– )
EBM News (2015– )
The Sunday Street
Archives of the Press Academy of Andhra Pradesh. Free Includes more than 20 newspapers in Telugu and Urdu. The earliest dates from 1914. Also hosts magazines and periodicals. '
This is a topic that does not seem to have been extensively researched, or where data, tools are available even given the limited internet searches I did. I was forwarded this Google News link for the 1 Aug 1950 edition of the Indian Express and was delighted. It seems that Prajavani has some records in the World Congress library, but Deccan Herald or The Hindu does not feature. One must find out how Prajavani happened - should be an interesting story with some takeaways for us.
Ammu Joseph, acclaimed journalist & activist has actuallly written about this in her book ‘Whose News’ and ruefully shared : ‘I don't know if things have improved (🤞🏼) but when Kalpana Sharma and I were researching media coverage of various issues back in the late 90s, the situation was so bad that we actually wrote about the pathetic state of newspaper archives then. And we were only trying to access editions going back some 20 years.
The Hindu (only in Chennai) was one of the most organised - on microfilm then, if I remember right. The Bangalore edition, though, was another story: old copies were kept only for three months and then destroyed (or probably sold as raddi).
Some of the dusty "archives" of bound hard copies - of The Statesman, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express - had to be seen to be believed.
The best source then was the Nehru Memorial Library in Delhi (also on microfilm). But who knows what has happened to that institution and its holdings in view of developments over the past few years.
I hope the advent of more convenient digital technology has led to some improvement. But the last time I checked even The Hindu's digital archive didn't go back more than a couple of decades at most. ‘
Extracts of ‘Whose News‘ book is below:
Meera K, Founder of Citizen Matters responded to Ammu Joseph’s comment with a worrying anecdote of her own : ‘25 years ago, I chanced upon the archive section of the Madras University library (on the Marina) -- found century old newspaper copies all brittle and flaking - the entire room was in a mess, with stuff lying on the ground too..’
Time for looking back insightfully, now.
Shouldnt this be our right as citizens? Lets give this some attention? Please share your thoughts in the comment section and share with Interested or concerned people or experts .