Some of the most iconic 9/11 news coverage is lost. Blame Adobe Flash

That means what was once an interactive explainer of how the planes hit the World Trade Center or a visually-rich story on where some survivors of the attacks are now, at best, a non-functioning still image, or at worst, a gray box informing readers that “Adobe Flash player is no longer supported.”

Dan Pacheco, professor of practice and chair of journalism innovation at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, has experienced the issue firsthand. As an online producer for the Post’s website in the late 1990s and later for America Online, some of the work he helped build has disappeared.

“This is really about the problem of what I call the boneyard of the internet. Everything that’s not a piece of text or a flat picture is basically destined to rot and die when new methods of delivering the content replace it,” Pacheco told CNN Business. “I just feel like the internet is rotting at an even faster pace, ironically, because of innovation. It shouldn’t.”

Rise and fall of Flash

Adobe Flash played a critical role in the internet’s development by being the first tool that made it easy to create and view animations, games and videos online across nearly any browser and device. Animated stars of the early internet such as Charlie the Unicorn, Salad Fingers and the game Club Penguin were all brought to life thanks to Flash.

The software also helped journalism to evolve beyond print newspapers, TV and radio, ushering in an era of digital news coverage that used interactive maps, data visualizations and other novel ways of presenting information to audiences.

“Flash’s ease of use for creating interactive visualizations and explorable content shaped early experiments with web coverage, and particularly served as a preview for what adding dynamic elements to a story could provide,” Anastasia Salter, associate professor at the University of Central Florida and author of the book “Flash: Building the Interactive Web,” told CNN Business in an email.

But despite enabling those innovations, Flash was also 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. Jobs’ refusal to support Flash on iOS devices was widely seen as the start of its decline. A year later, Adobe said it would no longer develop Flash on mobile devices.
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 was increasingly mocked and despised for being buggy, laden with security vulnerabilities, a battery drain and requiring a plug-in to use.
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.

Since then, a host of Flash-based content across the web has become inaccessible.

“Web preservationists have been sounding the alarm on Flash for a long time,” Salter said.

In some corners of the internet, there are efforts to preserve or restore some of that 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. However, that process can be difficult and won’t necessarily work to save all content built in Flash.

“Unfortunately it’s a lot more difficult than we’d like [to restore Flash content], particularly because ‘Flash’ encompasses generations of work and the platform’s code complexity grew with every iteration of Adobe’s scripting language,” Salter said. “I can’t say I’ve seen any news organization make the type of concerted effort that animations, games, and electronic literature communities are to save this history.”

For its part, an Adobe spokesperson said in a statement: “Adobe stopped supporting Flash Player beginning December 31, 2020. Unfortunately, these older web pages can no longer be played due to the Flash plugin being blocked from loading in the browser. Like all Americans, we watched the horrific events of 9/11 and understand the important role Flash played in helping media organizations depict and tell the stories of that tragic day.”

A Samsung-owned software called Harman has also partnered with Adobe and can help companies to keep Flash-based content running.

Finding solutions

Some newsrooms have taken it upon themselves to rebuild Flash content. For its coverage of the 20th anniversary of September 11th, USA Today republished some 2002 articles timed with the first anniversary and that included recreating some Flash-based interactives. Whereas some of these graphics were originally bigger interactives, USA Today’s graphics teams remade some to be smaller.

“We played with the limitation a little bit… because this is more a more relaxed and a more solemn and calm way to look at the stories,” said Javier Zarracina, graphics director at USA Today. “We’re not doing a facsimile. We’re taking a curated look at what we published 20 years ago.”

One of the stories USA Today published in 2002 was an investigation into the elevator system in the World Trade Center that included a Flash graphic explaining how people got trapped inside them on September 11, 2001. The USA Today team chose to remake that graphic and republished it earlier this week.

USA Today has archived many of its old interactives by storing the original files on its servers. Since some of the online interactives were converted for the print newspaper, they also saved associated static graphics. Zarracina said he was able to open some of the files originally made in Adobe’s FreeHand software in a newer creative software suite called Affinity.

An interactive CNN feature on the fallout from 9/11 is broken following the end of Flash.

The New York Times has brought back some its old Flash-based interactives by using Ruffle, an Adobe Flash Player emulator that is part of an open-source project, said Jordan Cohen, The Times’ executive director of communications.

“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,” Cohen wrote in an email. “[W]e hope in the future will enable our readers to experience all of our Flash interactives.”

But not every media organization is as dedicated to archiving.

“News companies are in the business of this very minute and tomorrow,” said Pacheco, the Syracuse professor. “We’re not libraries.”

Jason Tuohey, managing editor for digital at The Boston Globe, said in a statement that his team planned to “revive some of our archive coverage [for the September 11th anniversary], but in many ways, the best material we can provide our readers is journalism that puts the anniversary in context and perspective, rather than simply repeating what we ran in the past.”

Kat Downs Mulder, managing editor of digital at The Post, said in a statement that her news organization has “made a concerted effort to make most of our text-based articles, images, graphics and maps accessible” in their online archives but added that not every project is rebuilt.

CNN and ABC News declined to detail any plans to rebuild Flash-based interactives.

A never-ending problem

The limitations of news organization’s archives does not start or end with Flash. Pacheco noted how his former employer, The Post, has invested significant effort in TikTok. He questioned whether they were preserving each video and if that was also the case for other social apps, including disappearing content on Instagram and Snapchat.

USA Today is not rebuilding every old experience for today’s news consumer. But individuals inside the news organization are giving special attention to certain projects. Jim Sergent, senior manager of graphics at USA Today, said his colleague Mitchell Thorson keeps eyes on the functionality of the interactive map within the Pulitzer-winning feature, “The Wall,” about the US-Mexico border and former President Donald Trump’s campaign to build a wall.

“‘The Wall’ is a great example where we did just unbelievable work and we realized, ‘Okay, yeah. We want this to be out there for as long as it can be,'” Sergent said.

Iconic Holbrook’s building gets second life, being renovated to house local accounting firm – Salisbury Post

KANNAPOLIS — With sunlight drenching her back, DeAnna Ford looked around at the barren stone walls and the still-exposed metal studs and imagined what her future office will look like.

Several weeks into the renovation process, DeAnna and her husband Jeremy recently hit a milestone. The windows at the front of the 3,100-square-foot building that had been boarded up for months were finally replaced.

“Having the windows in just this week was kind of like an ‘oh yeah’ moment,” DeAnna said.

Installing new windows is one of the more recent renovations that have been made to the historic building, but it won’t be the last. By the end of March, the building at 1110 N. Ridge Ave. in Kannapolis will be the new home of DeAnna Ford, CPA.

Built in the first part of the 20th century, the building was occupied for over 60 years by Holbrook’s Radio and TV, which sold and serviced electronics in Kannapolis for 91 years before closing in 2019. Two years later, the building will be getting a second life.

Although the place itself will look different, DeAnna said she hopes to continue to provide the same customer service in her accounting practice that the Holbrook family was famous for.

“Anybody can provide good tax information and knowledge and bookkeeping, but if it’s not coupled with good customer service skills, you’re not going to want to come back,” DeAnna said. “That’s what kept the Holbrooks’ customers coming back is that good customer service and I hope the aurora and the karma from this building will continue on into our business.”

DeAnna and Jeremy Ford look around the future home of DeAnna’s accounting firm. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University in the early 2000s, DeAnna moved to Chapel Hill to pursue a career in politics. Her political career was short lived.

“I worked in political science for exactly one week and said ‘Nope, that is not what I want to do,’ ” DeAnna said.

For the next two years, she worked customer service jobs, including a stint at a ski resort in Monarch, Colorado, before moving back to North Carolina to work as an office manager for First Defense Fire Protection. Interested in accounting, Ford eventually earned a master’s of accountancy from University of North Carolina at Charlotte and began working for the accounting firm Potter and Company in 2013.

Just over two years later, DeAnna set out to forge a path of her own. The decision to leave Potter and Co. was inspired by a personal hardship.

“We tried to get pregnant when I was at Potter and Company. We’d gone through fertility treatments and tried for a solid five years,” DeAnna said. “We’d finally been told that it was very unlikely that it was going to happen since the treatments didn’t take. We were kind of like ‘OK, well we don’t have anything holding us back, it’s just the two of us, why don’t we give it a shot.’ I went out on my own Dec. 23 of 2015.”

DeAnna was a one-woman show her first tax season and ran her young business out of their family house. Soon, her client list began to grow and in the summer of 2016, she purchased an office building at 1401 Lane St. and hired the company’s first employees. Two weeks later, DeAnna found out she was pregnant. 

It was an ironic, joyous moment for DeAnna and Jeremy, but it also came with a caveat.

“She was due March 14, the day before the corporate tax deadline of my second year in business,” DeAnna said.

Savanna arrived on time and was born on her due date. Twelve days later, DeAnna was back at work.

“She was just home for a couple of days and was right back here in it,” Jeremy said.

Despite having a baby in the throes of tax season, DeAnna’s firm was awarded 2017 Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce New Business of the Year.

Since then, Ford has continued to grow, doubling in size almost every year. Now with over 10 employees, her current Lane Street office isn’t big enough to accommodate the firm’s rapid expansion.

In need of a new office building, DeAnna and Jeremy poked around at a few locations in and near Kannapolis, but eventually found what they were looking for on North Ridge Avenue. Even though the former Holbrook’s building wasn’t move-in ready, the husband and wife were entranced by its history and weren’t afraid to take on a fixer-upper.

“Maintaining that identity in little pockets of Kannapolis I think is important,” said Jeremy, who grew up in Kannapolis and worked as an engineer in Charlotte for more than two decades. “From our huge tree canopy in Kannapolis to some of our structures and waypoints, it’s important to maintain identity and there’s no more perfect place to do that than here.”

Through the renovation process, DeAnna and Jeremy have relied on local contractors to get the job done. In fact, many of their contractors are friends or clients of DeAnna. Many of the people who are working to refurbish the building, Jeremy said, have been in it before.

“The contractors come in here and say, ‘I remember coming in here and buying a TV when I was a kid,’ ” Jeremy said. “I’ve heard that story so many times.”

To pay homage to the building’s past and its future, the Fords are currently searching for local artists who would be interested in collaborating on a mural that would adorn the south facing wall of the building.

“We immediately saw the block wall on the south face and said ‘We should do an art wall,’ like a graffiti wall or mural or something to get some local artists in here to participate in putting something together that ties in the city, her business, the Holbrooks, a little bit of everything,” Jeremy said.

In addition to the mural, Jeremy said that they plan on building a shadow box full of items and information about the building’s history.

Brian Holbrook, who worked for years in the store started by his grandfather in 1928, said that he believes the Fords will be good stewards of the iconic building.

“We wish them well,” Holbrook said. “We’re happy for them and we’re happy that someone like them purchased the place because we wanted someone good in there who will be good to our neighbors around us who we’ve known for all these years.”

Even he doesn’t know the building’s exact origins, but legend has it that an 80-year-old man from Granite Quarry was responsible for cutting, carrying in and setting its sturdy stone walls. 

Those stone walls will soon be housing DeAnna Ford, CPA.