Why do even big publishing groups with the resources to do so (the New Yorker is an honourable exception) make so little attempt to organise, prioritise and monetise their archives? The best explanation I can suggest comes from an analogy given to me by George Brock, a former managing editor of The Times, who is now professor of journalism at City University in London. Think of a newspaper or magazine as a mountain of data, he says, to which a thin new layer of topsoil gets added each day or each week. Everybody sees the new soil. But what’s underneath gets covered up and forgotten.
Even the people who own the mountain don’t know what’s in the lower layers. They might try to find out but that demands a whole new set of tools. And, besides, they are too busy adding the new layer of topsoil each day. I suspect that the wisest new hire for any long-established newspaper or magazine would be a smart, disruptive archive editor. Why just sit on a mountain of classic content, when you could be digging into it and finding buried treasure?