News without archive

Sorry, a bit of frustration-venting coming up:

One of the most popular if not even the most popular website in Austria is https://orf.at, the website of Austria’s public broadcasting company. It has usually around 80,000,000 visits each month according to ÖWA and is also a quite popular source for news articles. Basically, if someone lives in Austria, the chances are quite high that this person visits orf.at daily to get their news.

While the website is extremly speedy and rich on high-quality content, it has two big issues:

The “ORF Act”’s 7-day-clause for online content

The individual elements of news overviews shall be provided only for as long as they are topical but no longer than seven days from the date they were first provided forviewing on the platform of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.

[…]

Programmes shall be provided for viewing or listening without the possibility of saving them (with the exception of podcasts) for a period of up to seven days after they were broadcast

– “Special mandate for an online service”, §4e (2 and 4), ORF Act

These two paragraphs more or less prohibit the ORF from making content associated with their primary content (e.g. news coverage) or even recordings of their podcasts available for more than 7 days after the original publication date.

If I want to listen to an episode of the Ö1 show “Matrix” from two months ago, I can’t. It’s simply not there anymore. The same is true for pretty much every single Podcast or recording that the ORF is offering on their website.

No real podcast archive

No real podcast archive

Same goes for links tweeted by the various ORF accounts. Ö1’s primary news show, for instance, regularly posts a short blurb + a link to the broadcasting. On 12 June they made this tweet and linked to https://oe1.orf.at/player/20190612/556250/120636000 through bit.ly. Since it refers to an audio stream that they are no longer allowed to provide, the website simply redirects to the player itself. They don’t even send a 30x status code or anything. The content is simply gone.

You might have some luck contacting their customer service but it’s probably better to create your own archives if you like some of their podcasts…

Hidden archives

The other big issue with orf.at is that content that is no longer on the frontpage, is either no longer accessible at all or hidden on topic-specific subdomains like https://science.orf.at without direct archive-links from the frontpage. If you don’t find this subdomain through another article or through the sitemap, you won’t know that it’s even there.

Subdomains only in the sitemap

Subdomains only in the sitemap

Some content items aren’t living within their own thematic subdomain, though: https://orf.at/stories/3131884/. You can still access this article even though it was created on 29 July, but you won’t find it through a pure clickpath from the frontpage. Luckily, orf.at is quite well-indexed by external search engines like DuckDuckGo but not having a working archive of news articles on one of the primary sources for news in Austria is really bad.

It makes researching news about a given time-frame hard to impossible and forces you to use other sources instead of the biggest one in the country.

Just yesterday, my partner wanted to send me a link to an article she had stumbled upon in the morning about mathematics and online-hate. By the time she got to it, it had already vanished from the frontpage. We were still lucky to find it on the science-subdomain a day later, but if it had been a news-story, it would have been lost.

Dev team?

In recent months, the whole website received a bit of tuning without more pleasant fonts, more whitespacing etc.. That and other navigation-related usability aspects haven’t been touched, though, as it seems. At this point I’m not sure how large the development team behind the site is. dev.orf.at hasn’t been updated since Jan 2017 but at least their Twitter account is still active. On the imprint they also link to a project called Helga, but the link is broken.

I really like a lot of the content being produced by ORF and Ö1 and FM4 in particular so I really want the site to be good. Right now (and for the recent history) it hasn’t been, though. It’s servicable, it gets the job done, but it doesn’t shine while doing so. At this point I get the impression, that their website offering (not their on-demand streamin service) has an extremely low priority. I couldn’t even find any related full-time job offerings on their jobs page.

Implications

The current state of ORF.at has a few implications:

  • When I want to know what happened during a specific time-window in Austria, I now usually visit other news outlets instead of the biggest and most popular one, simply because it doesn’t have a working archive.
  • Older audio programs are no longer accessible after 7-30 days. I’ve therefore started to archive my favorite podcasts from them on my own. Given that every Austrian citizen with a TV/Radio is supposed to contribute financially to the ORF, a publicly accessible archive o their recordings should have been a no-brainer. I don’t understand why I, as an individual, have to do that. That being said, it’s awesome that they publish recordings as normal podcasts so that I’m able to archive them! Unlike the previous point, this one is not meant against the ORF but only against the cited clauses of the ORF Act.

At this point I’m not sure, what I as an individual can do to help. Should I contact some members of the parliament? Should I talk to the ORS? If you’re working for the ORF and can tell me, please let me know!

Do you want to give me feedback about this article? Please send it to comments@zerokspot.com.