Techie Working at Home Creates Bigger Archive of Historical Newspapers (37 Million Pages) Than the Library of Congress

“Real news, fake news, who cares, it’s all the same, am I right?”

… Not to make light of an exis­ten­tial cri­sis in jour­nal­ism and the pub­lic trust—a dis­turb­ing devel­op­ment. Cyn­i­cism threat­ens to erode the very foun­da­tions of… well, ring your own alarm bell. Per­haps it’s time we (re)drew some hard lines around what we mean by the word “news.”

How to do that? I leave it to the experts—professors of jour­nal­ism, reporters and archivists and his­to­ri­ans who do the hard work of con­struct­ing genealo­gies and tax­onomies of news, dis­cov­er­ing its muta­tions and dead ends.

Jour­nal­ism libraries around the coun­try ful­fill the needs of these schol­ars, as does the Library of Con­gress. But if you real­ly want to dig into a com­pre­hen­sive collection—one that bests even the august Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment library (sort of)—you’ll need to vis­it the web­site of one Tom Trynis­ki, pri­vate cit­i­zen, retired “com­put­er expert,” writes Jim Epstein at Rea­son, and ded­i­cat­ed ama­teur, “work­ing alone.”

This being Rea­son, the pre­serve of “free minds and free mar­kets,” you can expect a good bit of crow­ing about the entre­pre­neur­ial spir­it of Tryniski’s accom­plish­ment—an archive of 37,439,000 his­toric news­pa­per pages from the U.S. and Cana­da, “orders of mag­ni­tude big­ger and more pop­u­lar than one cre­at­ed by a fed­er­al bureau­cra­cy with mil­lions of dol­lars to spend.” The video above says it suc­cinct­ly in a tagline: “Ama­teur beats gov’t at dig­i­tiz­ing news­pa­pers.”

Should you take an inter­est in what Tryniski—the sole employ­ee of Old Ful­ton New York Post­cards—spends, Epstein pro­vides a full account­ing of the site’s impres­sive­ly mea­ger oper­at­ing bud­get. Should you won­der where the LoC’s mon­ey goes, and why it uses so many more resources than one retiree, you may wish to do your own com­par­i­son between Tryniski’s site and the Feds’ online news archive, Chron­i­cling Amer­i­ca. (And maybe pay their place a vis­it in the flesh.) There’s more to a library than num­bers of pages and views.


In some ways, it’s not a fair com­par­i­son. Trynis­ki may be a com­put­er expert, but he’s not a web design­er (or he’s an ornery, old-school purist). His site (last updat­ed in 2014), with its frames and heavy use of Flash and GIFs, reflects the web’s anar­chic 90s hey­day. And where the LoC’s site chron­i­cles all of Amer­i­ca, Tryniski’s most­ly sticks to New York, with local papers like The Port Chester Jour­nal (above) rep­re­sent­ed heav­i­ly.

That said, the site’s search func­tions are much cool­er than those of glossier com­peti­tors, with options for “fuzzy search­ing,” “phon­ic search­ing” (for those of us who can’t spell), “and “user-defined syn­onyms.” Trynis­ki also knows his way around micro­film and a micro­film scan­ner, despite (we’re express­ly told for some rea­son in the video and Epstein’s arti­cle) his being “a high school grad­u­ate.”

In this tri­umph of the every­man sto­ry, how­ev­er, Trynis­ki does not intro­duce his own col­lec­tion with ful­mi­na­tions of the “old man shakes fist at” vari­ety. Instead he describes his col­lec­tion as a means of time trav­el. “It’s the day-to-day life,” he says, “that you could not imag­ine today. Read­ing the actu­al news­pa­per seems to bring it back into cur­rent con­text. Peo­ple… sit there and it’s like, they move back into that time, and it’s like they’re liv­ing in the same time as their grand­par­ents and great-grand­par­ents.”

Nobody needs to fix jour­nal­ism, libraries, or fed­er­al spend­ing to have this expe­ri­ence, and it’s one every­one should have—whether by trav­el­ing through the pages of old news­pa­pers or a fam­i­ly trove of pho­tos and let­ters. His­to­ry can seem like lit­tle more than a sto­ry we tell our­selves about the past, but the pri­ma­ry doc­u­ments have tales to tell that we could nev­er imag­ine.

Learn more about Tryniski’s col­lec­tion at Rea­son, and vis­it the quirky, decep­tive­ly ful­some Old Ful­ton NY Post Cards (named as such because the site began as a scanned col­lec­tion of post­cards from Tryniski’s home­town of Ful­ton, NY). You’ll find in its charm­ing­ly clunky envi­rons a fas­ci­nat­ing repos­i­to­ry of vin­tage news and pho­tos. And remem­ber, “If you did not read about it on Old Ful­ton NY Post Cards, IT DID NOT HAPPEN!!!”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

From the Annals of Opti­mism: The News­pa­per Indus­try in 1981 Imag­ines its Dig­i­tal Future

“Titan­ic Sink­ing; No Lives Lost” and Oth­er Ter­ri­bly Innacu­rate News Reports from April 15, 1912

Archive of Hemingway’s News­pa­per Report­ing Reveals Nov­el­ist in the Mak­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • jpj says:

    What this guy is doing sim­ply is not the same thing as what the Library of Con­gress is doing. The LoC is pre­serv­ing things for long-term access. There is no guar­an­tee that this guy’s scans will be around in 10, 20, 50 years. So, he’s scan­ning stuff fast, but he’s not real­ly doing any­thing to tru­ly pre­serve those scans the same way a real library or archive does.

    He also must be just ignor­ing copy­right law: it isn’t clear that what he is doing is even legal.

  • Saroj Gilbert says:

    Kudos for him pur­su­ing his pas­sion and shar­ing.

  • DMC says:

    Mr. Trynis­ki has pro­vid­ed this great ser­vice for many years. He’s not try­ing to be the Library of Con­gress, but much of what he has avail­able can’t be found else­where, even on Thank you, Mr. Trynis­ki, for your work.

  • LCS says:

    Add my thanks. I’ve used his site for geneal­o­gy research and found some won­der­ful things. It’s glo­ri­ous to see the inter­net being used for good and the ben­e­fit of all.

    Well done, sir.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.