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Securing NZ's Political Memory: Scoop As A Digital Archive

Securing NZ's Political Memory: Scoop As A Digital Archive

Howard Davis
In support of The 2016 Scoop Foundation Membership Drive.

As a callow undergraduate studying English Literature at Cambridge University in the 1970s, it was made abundantly clear to me that print was a dying medium. Original texts are constantly being lost and found as manuscripts and books disintegrate and ancient scrolls are rediscovered. My juvenile collection of Penguin paperbacks from thirty years ago are already looking slightly foxed.

When I studied film and television for my MA at UCLA in the 1980s, a similarly ominous clarion call was emerging in the world of visual media. Thousands of silver nitrate prints were perishing in the vaults of the UCLA Film Archive and funds were being raised to transfer them to videotape. Working several years later in the Warner Brothers Film Archive, plans were implemented to transfer their remaining 16 and 35 mm prints to digital archives, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of cineastes such as Martin Scorsese. But even the BBC was not immune from permanently erasing whole series of classic light entertainment shows to make room for extra storage space.

It had taken over a century for the major motion picture studios to realize that film is a medium of incalculable value in terms of documenting the social history of a nation - not only its political evolution in terms of institutions and attitudes, but also its more ephemeral styles and transitory fashions. How then can we best preserve such invaluable records of the past as we move even further into the digital age of cloud-based information storage?

In this regard, SCOOP performs a sadly overlooked and tragically undernourished, but nevertheless extraordinarily vital function. Over the past 17 years, it has evolved into a unique digital archive conserving millions of items of truly national significance. Not only does SCOOP furnish a publicly-accessible, massively comprehensive database of press releases, but also how concerned parties in every walk of life have responded to them. Covering all important developments in both the private and public sectors, SCOOP is an invaluable repository of information. It provides a panoramic overview of national and local government, as well as economic, political, commercial, cultural, and institutional activity.

This is how AUT's Dr. Julienne Molineaux, Senior Researcher and Editor of 'The Briefing Papers,' delineates our significance -

"The archiving of press releases, news stories and opinions about events is an invaluable tool for researchers wanting to reconstruct the past. SCOOP provides evidence of what was known, and thought and how ideas were communicated. The records contained in SCOOP assist researchers engaging in democratic accountability projects, as well as social histories. Without records being kept in perpetuity, our future selves will be deprived of rich histories about yesterday and today."

Form and function are symbiotically partnered in an eternal dance of desire within the archives of oblivion. There is a desperate need to preserve undervalued and disenfranchised voices of difference and dissent. Whatever appears quotidian and trivial may well prove to be of inestimable value to future generations, precisely because it is so evanescent. Statements that seem at first glance ordinary, commonplace, conventional, unremarkable, mundane or simply uninteresting are precisely the opposite to future historians. For lack perspective, we fail to value what is there right in front of us.

Like a painstaking custodial curator of rare lepidoptera, SCOOP collects and collates, then pins down and preserves with pristine accuracy a plethora of press releases that would otherwise simply disappear into the ether. It remains an irreplaceable record for succeeding generations of social or cultural historians of New Zealand concerned with investigating our heritage. SCOOP is, quite literally, part our common wealth - a national treasure that deserves to be supported for generations to come.

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