News Feature | October 20, 2015

New York Times Nearly Loses All Due To Poor Records Management

Katie Wike

By Katie Wike, contributing writer

It’s never too early to convert your paper files to digital, and the New York Times almost found out the hard way when water pipes threatened to destroy their archive of front page photos.

Document scanning can be tedious, not to mention complex and costly, as this video from ECM Connection explains. But the next time you put off scanning documents, just think of the New York Times, which nearly learned the hard way that scanning is worth the hassle.

An underground pipe blew earlier this month in the Times storage facility, a giant sub-basement housing the paper’s entire photo catalogue dating back decades. News assistant Benjamin Havrilak saved priceless clippings and photographs from the New York Times document storage facility, the morgue. “I walked in, and there was a river of water,” Havrilak told the Times.

Fierce Content Management reports nearly 90 percent of the paper documents were saved, and perhaps even more valuable, the card catalog housing information to navigate all of the documents was spared as well.

“What makes the card catalog irreplaceable is that it has never been digitized, the Times reported. “Hundreds of thousands of people and subjects are keyed by index numbers to the photo files, which contain an estimated six million prints and contact sheets.”

“Those getting even a little wet would have left them smudged, smeared and stuck together,” Picture Editor Niko Koppel told the Times. “They are our blueprints to the morgue. Without them, the material is lost.”