Adobe ending support for Flash — its once ubiquitous multimedia content player — last year meant that some of the news coverage of the September 11th attacks and other major events from the early days of online journalism are no longer accessible. The Internet Archive also includes ABC News and The Washington Post, which have both covered the September 11th attacks. CNN’s online coverage of September 11th also has been impacted by the end of Flash.
This means that what used to be an interactive explanation of why the planes struck the World Trade Center, or a visual-rich story about where survivors are, is now a still image or gray box telling readers that Adobe Flash Player is not supported.
Professor of Practice Dan Pacheco is chair of Journalism Innovation at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. He has personally experienced this issue. Some of his work as an online producer at the Post in the late 90s, and then for America Online later on, has vanished.
This is about what I refer to as the “boneyard” of the internet. Pacheco explained to CNN Business that anything other than text and pictures are destined for rot. I feel that the internet is decaying faster than it should, but this ironically happens because of innovations. It shouldn’t.”
Flash: Rise and Fall
Adobe Flash was a key player in internet development. It was the first program that allowed users to view and create animations online. The early internet was dominated by animated stars such asFlash was the one who brought Charlie, Salad Fingers, and Club Penguin to life.
Software also allowed journalism to move beyond TV, radio and print. It enabled digital news coverage to use interactive maps and data visualizations to present information to their audiences.
Anastasia Salter (associate professor at the University of Central Florida, author of Flash: Building the Interactive Web) told CNN Business via email that Flash’s simplicity in creating interactive visualizations, explorable content, shaped the early experiments with internet coverage.
Flash enabled these innovations but it was controversial. In 2010, Apple founder Steve Jobs wrote a scathing letter bemoaning Flash’s security issues and the fact that it was a proprietary system underlying so much of the internet. Widely, the refusal of Jobs to allow Flash support on iOS devices was seen as the beginning of Flash’s decline. Adobe announced that Flash would cease to be developed for mobile devices a year later.
In the following years, the more open web standard HTML5 — which allowed developers to embed content directly onto webpages — gained traction, and made the add-on Flash extension less useful. Flash became increasingly disregarded and mocked for its buggy nature, security flaws, battery drain, and requirement to be used with a plug-in.
In 2017, Adobe announced it would pull the plug on Flash at the end of 2020. Some operating systems and browsers started discontinuing Flash early, and the software’s official “end-of-life” day came on December 31, 2020, when Adobe ended support for Flash and encouraged users to uninstall it because it would no longer get security updates.
Flash-based content on the internet has been rendered inaccessible since then.
Salter stated that web preservationists had been warning Flash about Flash since a very long time.
Some parts of the internet are working to restore or preserve some content. The Internet Archive has made a push to re-create, save and display Flash-based animations, games and other media using an emulator tool called Ruffle. This process is not always easy and will not necessarily save Flash-based content.
Salter stated that “Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult than it’d be [to restore Flash content]. Particularly because Flash’s contents encompass generations of work and the platform’s code complexity grew as a result of every iteration Adobe’s scripting languages,” Salter added. Salter said, “I cannot say that I have seen any news agency make such a concerted effort as animations, games and electronic literature communities to save this past.”
Adobe’s spokesperson stated that Flash Player support was discontinued by Adobe on December 31, 2020. These older pages cannot be played because the Flash plugin is not being loaded in your browser.
Harman, a Samsung software that is owned by Samsung, has also partnered up with Adobe. It can be used to help businesses keep Flash-based content online.
Some newsrooms took it upon themselves rebuild Flash content. USA Today published some articles from 2002 that coincided with September 11th’s 20th anniversary. This included creating Flash-based interactives. Although some graphics in this article were larger interactives than they are now, USA Today’s graphic teams made some smaller.
Javier Zarracina (graphics director, USA Today) said that they played with the limitations a bit. “This is a more relaxed way of looking at stories. We’re not reproducing the original. “We’re looking at 20-years ago and taking a curator view.”
USA Today’s 2002 story on the World Trade Center elevator system featured a Flash graphic that explained how people became trapped in them on September 11. The USA Today team chose to remake that graphic and republished it earlier this week.
USA Today stored many of the interactives it used in its archives by keeping them on their servers. Some interactives online were also converted to print newspapers so they saved the associated graphics. Zarracina stated that he could open files created in Adobe’s FreeHand program in Affinity, a more modern creative suite.
Jordan Cohen, executive director of communications at The Times, stated that Ruffle is an Adobe Flash Player emulator used by the Times to bring back Flash interactives.
“The Times cares about preserving the digital history of the early days of web journalism, and through several site migrations we have made sure to preserve pages as they were originally published on archive.nytimes.com,” Cohen wrote in an email. We hope that our Flash interactives will be available to our readers in the near future.
However, not all media organizations are equally committed to archive preservation.
Pacheco said that news companies “are in the business” of the very next minute and the future. We are not libraries.
Jason Tuohey is the managing editor of digital at The Boston Globe. He stated in a statement, that his team would “revive some [our archive coverage] for the September 11th Anniversary, but in many other ways, journalism that places the anniversary in context, perspective and rather than repeating what was published in the past, is the best material that we can offer our readers.”
CNN and ABC News refused to discuss plans for Flash-based interactives rebuilding.
It is a never ending problem
Flash is not the only limitation of archives in news organizations. Pacheco pointed out that his old employer, The Post has made significant investments in TikTok. Pacheco wondered if they preserved each video, and if this was the same for other social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram that disappear content.
USA Today does not intend to recreate every experience that the news reader has had in the past. However, certain projects are being given special attention by individuals within the news agency. Jim Sergent is the senior graphic manager at USA Today. Mitchell Thorson, his fellow graphics manager, keeps an eye on the functionalities of the interactive map in the Pulitzer-winning feature.“The Wall”About the US-Mexico border.
“The Wall” is an example of how we accomplished incredible work, and then we realized that yes, it was possible. Sergent stated, “We want it to remain out there as long as possible.”
Publited Fri, 10 Sep 2021 at 18:02:04 +0000