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April 18, 2019, 11:21 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Want to read the big report?

No, not the Mueller Report, the document many have thirsted after for months as the special counsel investigated Russia’s influence on the 2016 elections. (You can find that one here, FYI.) I’m talking about the Starr Report — the Referral From Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr in Conformity with the Requirement of Title 28, United States Code, Section 595(c), to be precise — the conclusion of that other investigation, more than 20 years ago, into President Bill Clinton. And thanks to The Washington Post, a digital copy of it from back then is still alive and accessible, despite so many other links from that era having gone 404 in years since.

As Attorney General William Barr fielded reporters at a presser (hours before releasing the actual report), the same ole Post link from 1998 made the rounds on Twitter. The only other complete file of it I could find was from the Government Publishing Office, available in plain text and PDF. (If you don’t want to read it, you might instead just listen to Slow Burn and then watch Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk.)

The news about Starr’s investigation into Clinton’s scandal broke just days after Mark Stencel, then the politics editor of the Post’s website, had launched the politics section online. The Starr Report then came out about eight months later. “It was like a news artifact that was made for the internet,” he said. “It was this gargantuan document that didn’t make sense to sit there and read on TV. It would take time to format to put it into print in full. This was something we could do almost instantly with the internet.”

But it’s kind of remarkable that this artifact has survived this long, unlike most of the early web. Very few news organizations are actually archiving their work in its full form; a report from Columbia researchers recently found 19 of 21 news organizations surveyed were not taking any protective steps to archive their online journalism. Newsroom interviewees told them things like “It’s been preserved on the website/CMS” and “If it’s in a Google Doc, it’s sort of there forever. Right?” (Wrong!!!)

“Some functions don’t work — old RealPlayer video clips or some search functions, like the one we did for the Starr report. I live in fear that someone will casually delete all that early digital history, when we were just figuring out how to cover and present the news online,” Stencel said.

At least the Mueller Report is on DocumentCloud?

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