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The End of MTV News: Implications for Digital Archives – Guest Column

In a recent, unsettling decision, Paramount Global has chosen to remove the MTV News and Comedy Central digital archives, which have spanned more than thirty years. This effectively erases public access to millions of pieces of cultural history. This move has sparked a broad conversation about the threats to historical digital archives. As the CEO of the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), I find this development not only concerning but also reflective of a larger issue facing our society today — the need for accessible, preserved archives that uphold the integrity of our cultural history.

MTV has been a cultural icon since its inception, influencing music, fashion, language, and lifestyle, and shaping the social identity of generations. By digitizing and making its archives publicly accessible, MTV News not only preserved a vast array of cultural artifacts but also provided invaluable resources for education, research, and entertainment. The removal of such an archive means more than just losing access to old music videos and shows; it represents a loss of the ability to study and understand significant cultural shifts and phenomena that have shaped contemporary society. Not to mention, thousands of journalists’ and artists’ work has now been permanently deleted.

This action sets a dangerous precedent for the preservation of digital media. As our world moves more and more online, the role of media companies in maintaining accessible archives becomes increasingly crucial. The deletion of these archives can lead to cultural amnesia, where future generations lack the resources to learn from past media landscapes, understand the evolution of societal norms, and appreciate the artistry and creativity that characterized different eras.

Digital archiving is essential not only for preservation but also for making historical and cultural content accessible to a global audience. It democratizes access to information, ensuring that anyone with internet access can learn from and enjoy cultural heritage, regardless of geographical and socio-economic barriers.

Museums and cultural institutions must lead the charge in advocating for and implementing robust digital archiving strategies. At MoPOP, for instance, we’ve established an extensive digital archive of the five foundational elements of hip-hop culture: DJing, MCing, graffiti art, B-boying/B-girling, and knowledge of self. This archive serves as an educational tool that highlights the socio-political context in which hip-hop evolved. The commitment to digital archiving also supports academic research and promotes continuous learning, ensuring that invaluable cultural content is preserved and accessible for future generations.

As our dependence on digital resources and academic databases deepens, the accessibility of these materials becomes crucial, not just optional. This dependency underscores a significant power imbalance — where the availability of information is controlled by a few, the potential for loss or restriction of access can have far-reaching consequences. This is why it’s imperative to advocate for legislation that enforces the preservation of digital content and ensures its accessibility.

Specific policies, such as those modeled after the Library of Congress’s digital initiatives or the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), which advocate for maintaining open access protocols and supporting digital infrastructure through government-funded initiatives, are critical.

The recent removal of MTV News’ digital archives serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of our digital cultural heritage. This event should galvanize media companies, cultural institutions, policymakers, and the public into action. Digital archives should not merely be viewed as repositories of past creations but as active, dynamic resources that educate, inspire, and entertain.

To protect these invaluable resources, we must push for clear, actionable policies that secure digital preservation and accessibility. Advocating for the expansion of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to include mandatory digital archiving clauses, or establishing public-private partnerships that support the long-term sustainability of digital resources, as seen in various state-level digital preservation laws, are a few avenues that stakeholders can take. By taking these concrete actions, we can safeguard our cultural memory and ensure that today’s digital treasures remain accessible for future generations.

The Death of MTV News and What It Means for Digital Archives: Guest Column

Source: Consequence