It’s All Old News to Google

Some journalists like to think they write for posterity: when we’re all dead and gone, at least some of their words will live on, pressed into family albums, moldering in filing cabinets, and heaps in intensively-sorted piles at the packrat’s house cum firetrap down the street, serving as a record of how we lived, what was important to us, and how our societies viewed themselves.

And some of us are kinda terrified our words will live out the week and come back to bite is in our tender, rearward regions. Sometimes, just thinking about Google News’ 30-day expiration date on stories is something of a relief.

To that end, internet titan Google today unveiled a new service sure to cheer—and perhaps chagrine—journalists, researchers, and everyday people: Google News Archive Search. The new service brings historical newspaper archives online, enabling users to search for stories about events, people, places, ideas, and concepts and see how they have been covered, described, and (in some cases) ignored, glossed over, spun, minimizes, and interpreted.

Search results are sorted so articles of interest to historical researchers will be listed first, taking into account the publication in which the article appeared, how much coverage the underlying event received, who covered the story, and in what manners they covered it. Links also enable users to narrow search results by time periods (such as decade) and publication source. When links point to commercial Web sites, the fees for accessing the material are shown; however, Google says results are based purely on heuristics, not on content partnerships with companies.

According to Google, the earliest known searchable story in the archive dates from the mid-1700s. About the best I was able to turn up on short notice was some articles from the Edinburg Chronicle dating from 1759; maybe some ambitious sleuths can find something older to make a journalist—or a journalist’s descendents—backsides quiver!

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