Despite the seizure of their office and most of their files and equipment by masked gunmen, the journalists at the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism were prepared: over the weekend they had backed up their entire web history through the Archive-It service from the Internet Archive. David E. Kaplan, executive director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network and one of the coordinators of the effort, tells Bob just how they managed to pull it off. You can check out what they've saved here and here.
BOB GARFIELD: Thirty goons break into your office and confiscate your computers, your hard drives, your files and, with them, a big chunk of your institutional memory. Who are you gonna call? Well, in this case, the Global Investigative Journalism Network, an NGO of which the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism is a member. The organization worked swiftly and secretly with the San Francisco based Internet Archive, to restore the Crimean Center’s entire web history. One of the coordinators of this effort is David E. Kaplan the executive director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network.
DAVID E. KAPLAN: The day after it happened, I’m riding in an elevator with a very friendly guy, and we introduce each other, and he says he’s from the Internet Archive. Do you know what that is? Well, any good investigative journalist knows about the Wayback Machine.
BOB GARFIELD: This is Brewster Kahle’s vision of essentially backing up the entire internet.
DAVID E. KAPLAN: They’ve backed up the Web. [LAUGHS] Yes, it’s, it’s just terrific. But there are a lot of holes in it, particularly outside the US. And this Ukrainian site, the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism, had not been backed up, except in the sparest of ways. And I said, can you guys back up the Crimean Center? They have the best people in the world to back up and archive sites. And they’re able to grab not only the text now but the graphics, the photos, the captions. We now have a complete digital record of what this gutsy frontline Center for Investigative Journalism has done in Crimea. We have digitally archived their entire record of publishing.
BOB GARFIELD: The pages that were recovered are in Ukrainian, in Russian, English, what language?
DAVID E. KAPLAN: They’re mostly in Ukrainian. Most of the staff does not speak English, so we were working through our colleagues in Kiev to figure out what was going on and monitoring what the team in Simferopol was publishing [LAUGHS] because they, they had documented the entire attack. There was video. They took photos. They quoted [LAUGHS] these guys as they came through the door.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s pretty crazy. So they were actually interviewing the guys dispatched to oppress them. [LAUGHS]
DAVID E. KAPLAN: Well, they were quoting them. I’m not sure it was an interviewing [LAUGHING] situation. If, if you look on our site, there’s one that actually got tweeted around a lot, quote, “We will try to agree on the correct truthful coverage of events.”
BOB GARFIELD: Uh, yeah. Was there anything that particularly struck you as being indispensable that you were grateful that you were able to salvage?
DAVID E. KAPLAN: These guys specialized in corruption and national security stories, and these are both cutting edge issues in Ukraine. I mean, Yanukovych was, was driven from office, in large part because of corruption. The real stories have not come out yet. And I think it’s, it’s one of the reasons that this Crimean Center was targeted, because they have been digging up dirt on corruption.
They’ve also had a, a regular TV program on national security, raising uncomfortable issues for the people in power, so it wasn’t a mistake that as Russian troops are streaming into Crimea, this place, the adjacent Independent Press Office and the public TV and radio station were all targeted.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you mentioned that there are 90 other such organizations around the world. Are you going to be proactive with them now, to try to do the same thing for them, before there’s a, a crisis in play?
DAVID E. KAPLAN: It’s a great question, and in – indeed, this is very much on our minds. A lot of our membership, nearly half, are in developing and conflict-ridden countries. And these are journalists who – you know, the, the freedoms we take for granted, of publishing, of access to information, of access to tools and digital media, they have to fight for every day. And it’s really on our minds, so we’d like to work with the Internet Archive to get them all backed up, and then figure out how to go forward.
The great equalizer, you know, Bob, is all these digital tools that we have. You know, we – we’ve lost a lot of investigative reporters and investigative teams a – around the world. We’re able to do so much more with these tools now than we could, you know, even five years ago. It’s pretty exciting.
BOB GARFIELD: Have you been in touch with the folks at the Crimean Center? Are they back up and running?
DAVID E. KAPLAN: Strangely, the authorities have not shut down their site. They’re still publishing. They just [LAUGHS] don’t have access to their office or much of their equipment anymore. But they’re in their homes and we understand they’re all safe. But it’s pretty dangerous on the road. Journalists are getting hassled at checkpoints, and there’s a, a sister Crimean Center, and the director of that has been assaulted and her camera taken. So these are not good times for the media there.
BOB GARFIELD: David, thank you.
DAVID E. KAPLAN: A pleasure, thanks for paying attention to this.
BOB GARFIELD: David E. Kaplan is the executive director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network, Twitter handle @gijn.