After a catastrophic failure from a university server, both The Rider News and 107.7 The Bronc required new websites to be built over winter break.
By Amethyst Martinez
After a catastrophic failure from a university server, both The Rider News and 107.7 The Bronc required new websites to be built over winter break, the crash resulting in the loss of a multitude of stories from The Rider News’ archives and knocking the radio station’s streaming service offline for a time.
Moe Rahman, Rider’s chief information officer, described it as a “nameless, faceless crime,” where nothing could’ve prevented the server failure, which the university ended up being locked out of. Rahman said that multiple 12-to-14-hour days were spent trying to unlock the server to no avail.
Mike Reca, Rider’s vice president for facilities and university operations, said “[We] kind of hit that point of ‘Oh, OK, we have to move forward now.’”
That meant leaving behind the old server, which was hopelessly encrypted and starting new websites from scratch.
According to Rahman, other university websites were on the server, too, but were barely in use.
TheRiderNews.com, and 1077TheBronc.com, were down for a majority of winter break, leaving both student organizations with no websites for over a month — a critical time for both due to internship opportunities, award submissions and college applications from prospective students.
The server, which housed both sites, was only the size of about a suitcase, according to Reca. The age of the server is unknown, but was on the list of things to be replaced within the next few years – a difficult feat during a financially critical time at the university.
“Could it have been avoided? I don’t know. If we replaced all of our servers and spent millions of dollars, but we’re not at that place,” said Reca. “No one did this. It just happened … I just don’t want this to ever happen again.”
Reca stressed the silver lining of the event: now both websites have a webmaster with a focus on updating the sites to be within the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
Some of the criteria for the compliance encompasses consistent navigation, including descriptions for images and more.
Reca said, “It could’ve happened to any one of our servers. I looked at this like addition by subtraction … subtracted the old one and now we’re better.”
Stories lost to server failure
The Rider News lost a multitude of online-only articles and photo galleries due to the server failure, dating back to at least 2011. Stories published in the print edition survived the crash thanks to PDF archives, and more recent articles are gradually being uploaded to the new site.
The task is not easy, however.
Alye Ancianis, the former university web designer, has taken over as webmaster for both sites, and was assigned the task of helping rebuild.
“My job was to go in and tweak everything using internet archives, looking back at how the sites used to look, to basically recreate that feeling,” said Ancianis. “The second part was then repopulating the sites with their information, the subpages, the articles … that part was definitely the hardest.”
Ancianis has manually uploaded over 400 articles back to the newspaper’s website.
She said, although they were trying to find online-only stories through internet archives, it’s still unknown if those will be fully recoverable.
Jake Tiger, managing editor of The Rider News, said that the loss of the online content was “unexpected and disappointing.”
“While I’m glad that they were able to get us something before the beginning of the semester, it is unfortunate that a lot of stories that were important to the community are possibly lost for good,” said Tiger. “Online-only stories are usually some of the most important– breaking news, university personnel changes, Westminster updates, the April 3 shelter-in-place and important sporting events among other things…The loss really hurts.”
The Rider News was also unable to cover winter men’s and women’s basketball online due to the downed website.
Benjamin Shinault, a sports editor for The Rider News, said, “I wasn’t able to get compensated over winter break, which I was counting on. … It took away some practice to better my basketball writing. I’m definitely glad to have it back up and running, but it leaves the question of: ‘What [coverage] got left out?’”
107.7 The Bronc’s website
Although 107.7 The Bronc’s website crashed right after award nominations, John Mozes, general manager for radio station, said that the site was able to get a much-needed update due to the unexpected failure, which resulted in learning experiences for student workers.
“Now I feel like the website matches the product we have out now, and the studios we have as well,” Mozes said.
The radio station’s main goal during the crash was to find creative ways to keep their online streaming audience, where 56% come through their website, according to Mozes.
In an effort to keep listeners, the station redirected website traffic to links where the audience could listen on other streaming platforms while the site was down.
The station’s advertisers were also notified of the shutdown due to contract commitments.
“Yes, it was awful, right? You never want to lose your website,” said Mozes. “But in the long run, I think it turned out to be a really positive experience for the radio station as a whole, and I think for the students to learn.”
According to Mozes, the radio station is expecting to get everything on their old website back, and restored to the new one.
“Everyone realized how important both leading institutions are to the university,” said Mozes. “They realized what happened and that we need to fix it, and they fixed it.”
The restoration of the sites
On Jan. 19, over a month after the crash, both TheRiderNews.com and 1077TheBronc.com were restored in time for the upcoming semester, which both Rahman and Ancianis said was a priority.
Although The Rider News is still in the process of uploading past articles dating back to over a decade ago, the plan is to continue restoring, although the total number of stories lost is currently unknown. Some online-only articles from the fall semester were not archived and were permanently lost.
“We’ve got to be prospective rather than dwell on what happened, because it’s done,” said Reca. “At some point, you’ve got to fish or cut bait, and we hit that point where we couldn’t back down and we had to go forward.”
News Editors Julia Train and Jay Roberson and Sports Editors Benjamin Shinault and Logan VanDine work for 107.7 The Bronc and had no part in the writing or editing of this story.