New York Times Archives Threatened by Flooding

Author: Richard Shaw
Posted: November 23, 2015

Last month, a broken pipe almost caused a flood in the sub-subbasement of the former New York Herald Tribune building on 41st Street.

What is the significance of this statement?

The area in question is known as ‘The Morgue’, which is the storage area where the New York Times keeps its gigantic collection of historical photos, newspaper clippings, microfilm records, books and other archived material. The collection is so celebrated that it even has its own Tumblr page, the Lively Morgue. Luckily, the treasured files were not destroyed by the flood, with only minor damage being caused.

A Lucky Escape?

The truth is, the New York Times have had a very lucky escape, the damage to the files on record could have been considerable and irreparable, a travesty considering the decades of history represented. Manager of ‘The Morgue’, Jeff Roth said that it appeared about 90% of the affected photos would be salvageable, also commenting that it was too early to establish with certainly exactly how many files had been lost.

Often seen as the most precious file within ‘The Morgue’ is the Card Catalog, essentially the blueprints to the hundreds of thousands of documents contained in the storage facility. Niko Koppel, Picture Editor with the New York Times remarked on their importance, “Those getting even a little wet would have left them smudged, smeared and stuck together. Without them, the material is lost.” His despair stems from the fact that the Card Catalog has never been digitized.

In such an organisation where the files in question are of huge significance, the card catalog defines the value of said files. Indexing documents awards them with relevance, which they are useless without. Protecting the index is thus of vital importance.

The Importance of Digital File Management

The incident gives credence to the ever-growing importance of digital file management. The files in ‘The Morgue’ are a stark example of the vulnerability of archaic file storage. Of course, it takes a disaster like this to highlight the dangers that traditional storage simply cannot account for, and no one would be naïve enough to suggest that treasures such as these archives have no place in the world.

However, digital file backup is hugely relevant, and while it’s inclusion would not have prevented the flood damage, the fear that followed the incident would have been greatly reduced. There is a moral to the plight of the New York Times, and a considerable lesson regarding document management to be learnt.

Richard Shaw of Margolis said, “In the U.S, flood damage hits one in four businesses. Of that, an estimated 25% of businesses never restart their operations in the wake of a flood or other natural disaster. Over the next few years, the UK is likely to exceed this alarming statistic. Implementing digital indexing is an easy, cost effective way of securing high risk, business critical information. The tangible benefits are obvious; reduced insurance premiums, easy accessibility and a better, streamlined operation. The intangible benefits are even better; peace of mind. If the unthinkable happens will continue.”

To discuss an effective manner of organising and managing your files, speak to the Margolis team today. You can call or use our contact form.