Infomart

Kirsten Smith My Blog 2 Comments

Minor update: The red flags I mention in the last graf apply to more databases than just Infomart.  Many other newspaper, magazine or scholarly databases use algorithms and scripts instead of humans to clean the data. That situation won’t change so it’s good to keep it in mind when searching.

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I  was really sad last month to read that Postmedia (full disclosure: I worked at Postmedia News until 2014) is selling Infomart. Postmedia describes Infomart as the media monitoring division. I describe it as a) the archive for 30+ years of newspapers and b) a part of the company that makes money.

When I started at Southam News (which became Canwest News and then eventually Postmedia News) in 1990, Infomart was still pretty new, the the earliest digital archives of the Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Gazette were launched in the fall of 1985. My unit, the wire service, joined in 1987. Every morning either myself of the library assistant would manually clean the copy, add notes and photo information then send it to Toronto by FTP. Even as the service expanded and became web based that process stayed in place until 2002, when staffing shortages in the library and the need for an earlier publishing deadline forced me to cede control to Infomart.  We worked hard to create a process of automatic ingest of the newswire copy. I still had editing authority so I could go into the database post publication and add corrections and other editors notes.

All through those years the folks at Infomart were great to work with. For years they held regular meetings with the Southam librarians and sought our feedback on various upgrades and redesigns. Learning how a database is put together makes you a better online searcher. I’m convinced of it.

As the company changed hands, and the wire service evolved so did its’ database in Infomart. Now that the wire service doesn’t really have any staff reporters, Postmedia Breaking News archive publishes copy that is posted to canada.com and published by the centralized copy desk.

Infomart went from just Southam owned newspapers to licensing deals with dozens of other content providers and now provides access to hundreds of databases. The latest reboot in 2012, saw the name change from FPinfomart back to Infomart. Back in the 1980s and 1990s the target market were other news organizations, researchers and libraries. Since 2012 they focus on the public relations and marketing industry, offering social media monitoring and brand management. That’s where the money is.

The FPAdvisor content is still an excellent source corporate data, including historical information on many companies. If you’re old like me, you remember the Yellow Cards. Here’s a blog post which includes a photo. A few hours before the sale to Meltwater was announced on June 22, I connected the owners of a business research company with Infomart just for the FPAdvisor content.

I don’t want to paint a completely rosy picture of Infomart. There are problems. More and more journalists are freelancers but the monthly subscription rates put databases like Infomart out of reach for many of them. The impact of that can be a lack of depth and context in the reporting when your ‘research’ consists of Wikipedia and a Google search. Infomart doesn’t make much effort to market to journalists anymore or have relationships with journalism programs at universities, which is a shame.

But if you subscribe to Infomart or access its’ content through another aggregator like Factiva or LexisNexis, here are some red flags to keep in mind. There aren’t many librarians (or support staff in general) left in the company whose role it is to clean the database, append corrections to stories, provide editors notes , fix typos or add meta data that improves search result. And, since most reporters now file directly to the web with only some content going into print, the story you’re looking for may be in the database or not depending on what is getting ingested into the database. And if a breaking news story is updated multiple times, will all versions get into the database? Will any errors get fixed? Flags like this is why it’s good to hire an information professional like me.

All the best in your new home Infomart.

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Comments 2

  1. Great article Kirsten……you’ve taken me on a trip down memory lane. I remember telnet-ing into the early versions of Infomart and working the late shift at PNG (Pacific Press at the time) library sending content by FTP.
    You hit the nail on the head when you point out that Infomart has shifted away from viewing itself as a research database and is re-branding itself as a media monitoring service. The problem is, the media monitoring service is only as good as the content itself, so if you skimp on content (eg. appending corrections, collating series, keywording, quality control/fixing errors) you kind of shoot yourself in the foot.
    Thanks for the interesting post!

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