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Though the stated aim of the U-T San Diego has been to "merge'" with the North County Times, and loyal Times readers can still get their hands on ersatz NCT editions with a masthead that resembles their old paper, the bottom has dropped out of the Times' archives online.

Since January 1, web surfers who went to the Times site (nctimes.com) have ended up at the U-T, at a section featuring news from North County.

As for searching for back stories in the Times, that's been proving hit or miss at best, and mostly miss.

The U-T says it took down the archive as part of a move to integrate the Times' nearly two decades of local coverage into the U-T website. Though there's no target date to complete the task, the U-T's vice president of interactive, Dan Hellbusch, says the goal is get the job done as soon as possible.

Right now, inconsistency reigns supreme.

Checking for the work of, say, Gary Warth, a Times reporter who made the transition to the U-T, yields many stories he wrote for U-T San Diego since October 1, when it officially absorbed its smaller rival to become the sole daily newspaper in San Diego County. Buried last week in his online file, also, were a story or two Warth had written for the Times, with the contact information being his old and now-nonexistent email address at nct.com.

One former Times staffer, a veteran who'd gone on to other pastures before the deal was inked, said a search for her byline on the U-T site yielded more than 900 stories. She said she printed copies of two stories "whose bylines made it look like" she had worked for the U-T. But when she went back and looked at those same stories online not long afterward, the bylines said "nctimes.com."

"I always knew the online versions could disappear at any time," she wrote in an email, "so I went through the NCT's archives and made screen and hard copies of my best and favorite stories...I did the same for other stories when I heard the U-T was buying the NCT. If the stories are gone from the website now, I'm thankful I made copies while I could. It's not as convenient as being able to give someone a link they can just click on. At its worst, though, it just means having to share stories the 'old' way. I feel for reporters who don't have copies of their stories, though. I can definitely understand how losing the online versions might feel as if your history — and a lot of hard work — had been erased."

The old way is to have the foresight to make copies from the physical newspaper itself, or print them out from microfilm. The latter can be hard to locate. Of all the branches of the San Diego County Library, only the one in Vista has the Times on microfilm and, at that, it goes from just January 1, 2002 through December 31, 2010, missing almost ten years' worth of issues, according to county librarians.

The Vista branch refers patrons looking for a fuller record to the city libraries in Escondido and Oceanside. The referencer desks at neither report having an online newspaper database that includes the old Times, but both have microfilm. Every issue is included in Escondido film (though some of the latest material is still being prepared for filming) and Oceanside covers 1995 through 2010.

Asked if there was any index to the collections, reference librarians at both city libraries said, “Not really.”

At Palomar College in San Marcos, periodicals librarian Tamara Weintraub said there is no microfilm of the Times and only select, limited entries online through a newspaper database affiliated with a firm called EBSCO.

Customer service representatives at the U-T are suggesting their back issues department may have some hard copies of the Times. Interactive v.p. Hellbusch said he is not certain that the U-T owns a physical copy of each and every edition of the NCT.

The U-T says its plan is to migrate the Times' old web site over — at least those stories that appeared in print — and make the archive accessible and searchable online. If stories got lost when content was transferred from the Times to the U-T, that material would be captured from hard copies of the paper and from microfilm to be scanned in. When it will get done remains anyone's guess. The U-T's Hellbusch declines to get any more specific than "as soon as possible."

"The goal," he said, "is to do as much archiving as possible,” he added. "Our goal is to have everything (from print) online."

Douglas F. Manchester, hotelier, restaurateur, civic booster and U-T publisher, plunked down nearly $12 million for the Times in a deal officially announced last September 11 that took effect October 1. The Times was owned by Lee Enterprises Inc., based in Davenport, Iowa. A year earlier, Manchester paid some $110 million for what was then known as the Union-Tribune.

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