A High Priority on Island History
As our team considered a new platform for publishing the Island Free Press, a priority was placed on preserving our archive of more than 10 years of stories. Though it’s partly a sentimental decision, as the only newspaper on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands for many years, our island’s history over the past decade or so has been told within the digital space of the IFP archives.
Caution: Techy Talk Ahead
While we report the news by adhering to accepted journalistic standards, the digital publishing of our old site lacked a parallel adherence to the W3C and evolving HTML standards. Free online WYSIWYGs produced a very unstandardized format that varied from month-to-month, and even more so year-to-year.
The articles were not managed by a content management system, and none of the content was databased. Each article was simply its own HTML file with very little, if any, proper semantic tagging. In fact, there were more than 4000 individual files and each varied pretty significantly to each other.
The task of databasing the content and importing it into WordPress was quite a challenge. However, my regard for today’s “fake news” environment compelled me to preserve what was clearly quality information for our islands and our region. I felt that whatever shiny new website I built could never pay proper respect to our readership if I abandoned the effort to seamlessly integrate the past into the future of our paper.
Traffic and Organic Exposure
Aside from preserving years of community history, there is one other very important motivation for preserving all that content in an index-friendly format. In March 2018, Google announced a $300M commitment to support ethical ‘truthful’ digital news.
Thousands of articles over ten years is of extreme value for natural search engine rankings. Google gives great value to what it calls “Real News.” In a growing climate of easy-to-publish unreliable news, major investment and initiatives are being made to find “Real News” and to discourage fake news by ranking it punitively online. IFP has consistently been nothing less than “Real News”
We expect our investment in time to more than pay off in search engine rankings. Years of well-organized and properly tagged “Real News” is likely to put the IFP – and Hatteras Island specifically – at the top of many online searches. More and better Organic Search Exposure for our articles could be game-changing, not just for the paper, but for our islands.
Some really clever PHP DOM Scraping packages married with a set of custom code which I had to vary from year to year made the task possible. Imagine creating a massive series of “If this happens, then that happens” statements which aim to look for a title, a “byline”, a date, the end of the article, and ensuing links to videos and slideshows… oy vey.
The Results and How You Can Help
While the bulk of the import was done programmatically, our team painstakingly did a manual check over each article to correct ‘critical’ mistakes. However, given the inconsistency in the content and the lack of tagging, it is not perfect. There are mistakes and some things were missed. As a result, we are adding an “Article Error” button to all the article pages in 2018 and before. If you come across an import error, just click the button and report it. Our team will take a look and correct the problems as requests are made and notify you when the article is properly preserved.
We appreciate your help in identifying ways that our paper can continually approve, and we hope you are as excited about our new design as we are! With your assistance, we can make sure that the Island Free Press remains a record of our local history for years to come.