The Rand Daily Mail’s archives are finally being digitised. NewsBank will incorporate the vast archive, chronicling 83 years of South African history, into a digital repository of international print publications.
The Times Media Group, which owns the archive, has been hobbled by the sheer expense of such an undertaking. Managing director Mike Robertson told The Media Online that digitally archiving 108 year’s worth of the Sunday Times was “a costly project”. “NewsBank is paying for this project,” he said.
In a story published by The Media last year, TMG’s head librarian, Michelle Leon, said, “[If the Rand Daily Mail is not digitised] we would lose perspective on events in that time that were not a government view. This was an English language paper that gave another perspective”.
The deal with NewsBank will now enable the global research community to access the complete archive. “We are thrilled to be launching the Rand Daily Mail archives digitally in South Africa” says Tim Russell, vice president, International Division, for NewsBank. “Making the Rand Daily Mail archives available digitally opens exciting new pathways to research South African history during a turbulent period. This critically acclaimed newspaper contains a wealth of unique perspectives within its reporting on 20th-century South Africa.”
Rand Daily Mail stories, ads, editorials, photographs and cartoons will be available via Newsbank’s South African News Archive. The searchable, full-text coverage from 1902 through 1985, will be available to the public via NewsBank’s subscription services.
Robertson estimates the process will take up to six months. At the same time, the group is in the process of digitising its photographic library, another resource that could be monetised. “We are a year into a project of digitising our photographs (a separate project). The project is unfortunately behind schedule. We expect it to take another two years to complete,” he said. “We have created a content sales division with the intention of creating a new revenue stream from the sale of our unique historical content.”
Robertson said the Rand Daily Mail project would not only show the bravery and integrity of the journalists and photographers, but “allows us to share a more accurate and complete picture of South Africa” that wasn’t the government view of the time.
The Rand Daily Mail closed in 1985 as a result of “government hostility, negative market sentiment to its large black readership and bad management decisions”. It started publishing in 1902.
In the interview with Leon, the chief librarian said the archive is currently on microfilm, and “outdated” and time-consuming technology. While there are hard copy collections of the newspaper in libraries and at the University of Johannesburg, they are getting more brittle and yellow by the year.
Once the Rand Daily Mail is digitised, it will work in a similar way to the Sunday Times. A user can enter any term, such as the name of the reporter, and all stories by that person will be available within seconds.
IMAGE: Rand Daily Mail archive / Nstiki Biko outside the court during the inquest of her late husband, Steve Biko, who died in detention on 12 September 1977 as a result of brain injuries. Photo by Peter Magubane. © Rand Daily Mail/ Times Media
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