Finding the Journolist archive

By Felix Salmon
June 29, 2010
Andrew Breitbart up on his offer to buy the Journolist archives for $100,000. Juli Weiner writes:

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There are non-trivial technical problems which would need to be overcome were anybody tempted to take Andrew Breitbart up on his offer to buy the Journolist archives for $100,000. Juli Weiner writes:

The one kink in Breitbart’s plan is that we now live in a post-6/25 world, and JournoList is no longer a functioning entity. To access the archive, members would had to have chosen a Google Groups setting that forwards discussions to their inboxes. JournoListees would also have to now be willing to relinquish control of their e-mail accounts to Andrew Breitbart, which, ew.

In fact, it’s harder than that. I think that most Journolist members had discussions forwarded to their inboxes — it was the only practicable way of keeping on top of conversations. But the only conversations they would have received were the ones which took place after they joined. Journolist didn’t spring fully formed out of Ezra Klein’s contact list with 400 members: it grew organically over time. And once you were a member, you had access to the complete archives. But those archives have now been taken down, as Weiner notes.

So in order to give the full archive to Breitbart, one of two things I think would have to be the case. Either you would have to be in the small group of founding members, who have received all of the emails since inception. Or else, while Journolist was still up, you would have to have somehow mirrored or copied the entire archives onto your own hard drive.

I don’t know how easy or difficult that would have been, but I’m quite sure that it’s beyond the technical ability of most of Journolist’s membership. It does however look as though Ezra Klein killed Journolist just in time: if it was still up today, I’m sure Breitbart would be publishing detailed instructions on how to generate a full archive from a Google Group. For the time being, though, I hold out hope that Breitbart’s fishing expedition will come up empty. Although it seems that one of Journolist’s members was malevolent enough to leak Dave Weigel’s emails, there’s also a very good chance that wasn’t smart enough to store a full local archive of the group’s history.

Update: Dsquared adds in the comments that Breitbart can’t credibly promise to keep the leaker’s identity secret:

Offering to pay $100k for someone else’s private email is not protected journalism even in the USA, as far as I’m aware, and there was at least one EU citizen on that list who might be tempted to assert his Article 8 right to privacy (cf: the News of the World phone-hacking scam). This would be the stupidest thing Breitbart or anyone else could do, given that a) $100k doesn’t necessarily go all that far in the English courts and b) the identity of the person who leaked it (and the person who leaked Weigel’s original email) would certainly come out during discovery. Breitbart really needs to get a new lawyer if he thinks he’s able to make that guarantee of “protection” to someone selling an archive of other peoples’ mail for a hundred grand.

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