Journalism and the History It Documents Are Disappearing. We Have a Plan to Change That
Part of the history of the Internet. Not so easy to find. Other parts are gone forever.

Journalism and the History It Documents Are Disappearing. We Have a Plan to Change That

Journalists like to think of ourselves as writing the first draft of history. In the internet age, this is true, but in a sense we wish it wasn’t. Like many other first drafts, our work ultimately gets thrown away, burned or otherwise deleted.

25 years ago I documented the first major reckoning of the Internet era on the ground in Silicon Valley, an economic collapse that seemed to run parallel to my own coming of age story. I published a series of articles under an anonymous byline that attempted to capture the bursting of the 1990s dot-com bubble from the vantage point of a bright-eyed and ultimately helpless young believer.

I thought it was pretty good, and readers seemed to agree. But within months the world changed. 9-11 happened, the economy collapsed further and for a few years we spent a lot less time talking about the new and bewildering online world.

My series, which I never took any public credit for, disappeared along with the rest of the once groundbreaking site that published it. Meanwhile, I retreated to a remote village in Alaska and a career in community radio for several years.

I never stopped writing and doing journalism, and eventually did a lot more online journalism, in particular. Over a quarter century working primarily as a freelancer, that initial experience has repeated itself more often than not: Pour hours, days, months, even years into reporting and building up significant bodies of work for various outlets online, only to see much of that digital footprint disappear.

There was the AOL-owned men’s site I helped edit and create videos for, another men’s site where I documented a crazy, alcohol and cash-fueled road trip across the western US with a band of celebrities; there’s stories that aired nationally on NPR; dozens of pieces of music journalism from the earliest iteration of; an ill-fated attempt to revive the legendary tech media publication BYTE, and much, much more. All of it has vanished. Some of it can be found in often broken and truncated forms through some diligent browsing on the Wayback Machine, but my journalistic output over a quarter century has turned out to be far more ephemeral than I ever would have guessed. 

Often the outlets in question simply go defunct and dark, or they’re bought out by a larger media corporation and retired, or deemed at odds with the latest rebranding or growth strategy. Most recently, an outlet told me after the fact that over 700 of my articles written over a span of twelve years were being pulled offline for reasons of “SEO alignment.” journalistic output over a quarter century has turned out to be far more ephemeral than I ever would have guessed. 

Certainly there’s some simple ways to keep track of my portfolio. Printed copies or PDFs for my own personal sense of posterity, sure. There are third-party services I can pay to scrape my content and package it up into some sort of portfolio site. I’ve been paying for one of these for years with pretty lackluster results, and in my experience these sorts of services have even less staying power than the media outlets themselves.

This is where blockchain technology and Seed Protocol come in. Blockchains offer a permanent and secure way to store data and Seed Protocol is designed to make any content’s online footprint permanent while also preserving ownership over that content.

If Seed Protocol or something similar were the default publishing layer for the internet, we would never have to worry about content that’s meant to be permanent – like journalism – disappearing. In fact, it could truly become the first draft of history, and we could also have a record of all the other drafts – the revisions, corrections and annotations – for a more complete historical record. This doesn’t just help preserve individual reporters’ portfolios, it could help preserve our sanity and allow us to make better sense of the world we live in.

We’re building Seed Protocol right now as a public good. To support the effort, please donate to the final days of our Gitcoin campaign. Donating as little as a few dollars worth of token can go a long way thanks to the wonders of quadratic funding. And, of course, your support will be recorded for all of posterity.