Memories

The Chronicle locks away the Post archives

Where have you gone, Bob Claypool?

Actually Claypool, like Joe DiMaggio, has passed on to his final reward. As has the paper for which he wrote years' and years' worth of rock criticism, The Houston Post.

Claypool and The Post may be long gone, but both lived on for Houston Chronicle subscribers, who could always, when the nostalgia bug hit, electronically access the Post's archives covering from 1985 until its closing ten years later. If you wanted somehow to revel again in the society scribblings of Marge Crumbaker or the semi-insightful front-running of sports columnist Kenny Hand, it was a few mouse-clicks away.

It used to be, at any rate. Now it has all more or less vanished into the ether.

For months, the Chron's archive Web page has stated that the Post archives were "temporarily unavailable." That temporary status has been made permanent.

Blame the U.S. Supreme Court, says Mike Read, the Chron's Web operations and development editor.

In June 2001 the court decided, in New York Times v. Tasini, that a newspaper's Web archives could not include stories done by freelancers or other nonemployees unless those writers agreed. The suit was brought by the National Writers Union, which argued that Web archives were a form of reusing a freelancer's work without paying.

"It's nine old people on the court without a clue about technology," Read says.

The Chronicle's own archives were flagged in such a way that it was relatively easy to delete any stories affected by Tasini, he says. "But the Houston Post archives, we just took them as one big blob of data," he says. "We'd have to go back and look at each story and say, 'Was that done by a Houston Post employee, was that by a contract employee?'…It would be incredibly more trouble than it ever would be worth."

Nowadays contracts with freelancers are written to address Tasini issues; in fact, some papers have online archives that go back only as far as the time when such changes were made. (Archives for the Houston Press no longer contain articles from freelancers who haven't consented to have them posted.)

It's still allowable for libraries to have papers like The Post on microfilm, accompanied by the year-by-year indexes whose use seems so tedious in these days of instantaneous search engines. The court said those microfilm editions are intact reproductions of the original newspapers, while online databases offer "individual articles presented individually."

But no one's going to head downtown to the library if he gets a momentary urge to see, for example, what Claypool thought of the Grateful Dead's 1985 show at AstroWorld. (You'll have to mollify yourself with the four months of reviews he did for the Chron before his 1989 death.)

The Post archives are still available to Chronicle staffers; it's only the general public that can't see them.

"That's the danger of the decision: It hides a lot of information that should be made public," Read says.

Tangled Web

Speaking of Web pages, cyberspace has become Bizarro World over at the home page of Channel 13.

On the air, the station has been running a series of scathing reports by Wayne Dolcefino about unorthodox bookkeeping at the prominent charity Kid-Care. The stories have resulted in not only an investigation by the state attorney general but also angry protests by supporters of Kid-Care founder Carol Porter. (The charity denies any wrongdoing and blames a former business manager for some questionable spending items; see the News Hostage's "All About the Kids," October 24.)

Reaction among Kid-Care's supporters has been fierce (if somewhat misguided): The station and Dolcefino have been compared to a lynch mob or the KKK.

Not on the Web site, though. There, it's nothing but support for the station.

"This really saddens me to see that instead of accepting responsibility for their actions or defending themselves with merit and facts, the Porters and Kid-Care feel it's necessary to stoop to using the 'race card,' " one viewer wrote.

Says another: "It made me sick to hear Mrs. Porter saying that her hair and nail appointments should be written off because she had to be on television and give interviews and needed to 'look nice.' I have seen clips of her on TV, and I am sorry, but NOT ONCE have I seen her 'look nice.' "

Geez, isn't there any Kid-Care supporter with access to a computer? Yes, as it turns out, although it doesn't do them much good.

Kid-Care executive director Brad Levy, who will write ten e-mails at the drop of a hat concerning media coverage, says supporters' messages don't get posted. "Lots of people have tried, but no one has made it on," he says. "Surprise, surprise!"

A KTRK spokesperson says the only reason postings would be deleted is if they contained threats or were in poor taste; otherwise, they'll get posted.

Hey, just what this story needed: yet another thing for these two sides to argue about.

 
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