Navigating the Internet’s Baffling Backend

Last weekend I was taking a bus home to New Jersey for a weekend of camping that would be ostensibly free of technology.

But as I browsed the Internet on shoddy Bolt Bus Wi-Fi while sitting in the purgatory that is New Jersey Turnpike Friday night traffic, I got an unexpected text from our multimedia editor at The Daily Free Press.

She informed me that our recent website issues had reached a breaking point: our website was down and no amount of rebooting, refreshing or otherwise could get it back. So on the cusp of my technology-free weekend, we had a technological disaster on our hands.

I don’t think Sam, the multimedia editor, or I could have imagined how absurd and infuriating the next week would be as we tried desperately to get our website back.

While I was away for the weekend, Sam emailed and troubleshooted furiously, skimmed obtuse online forums and learned more about web hosting, SQL and FTP than she ever wanted to know.

But when I returned late Sunday night, we were nearly in tears and our website was nowhere near fixed.

On Monday we made the choice to move our still-broken website from a completely unsupportive web host (s/o to DigitalOcean) to a hosting service that I knew would be able to actually help us (s/o to BlueHost).

Still, our problems were far from over. Sam and I were still navigating a labyrinth of tech terms and online concepts that are esoteric for the uninitiated. Here we were, myself a former multimedia editor, feeling completely inadequate and wholly dependent on the BlueHost tech support staff who were becoming our close friends.

I’m happy to say that we were able to get everything fixed and back in working order, which now allows me to really think about what this week taught me and all of us at the FreeP:

1. Internet Content is Not Permanent

We spent five days completely unable to access our website in any form. We had to created a temporary website and I was terrified of losing the old site. What if we hit the wrong button, ran the wrong process and lost all 35,000 posts (nearly 10 years of content) that our website held?

This thought quite literally kept me up at night. During this crisis, I really wished we were just a daily print publication, stamping our stories in a physical form that isn’t shrouded in backend jargon or at risk for accidental deletion.

2. Respect Tech Support Staff. Seriously. 

We are so deeply indebted to the technical support folks at BlueHost. They saved us. When I first called them about transferring our site, they told me they’d transfer it, but they wouldn’t fix a broken site.

We did it anyway, and after calling five or more times a day, they really came through for us. These people know everything and anything about the web, and I am grateful that they all gave us their time and understood how dire a broken website was for a daily digital publication.

3. Compassion is Crucial During Crisis

This week was emotionally and physically taxing for all the editors here, even the ones not directly involved in fixing the website. Working a digital daily newspaper without a working website is pretty stressful, as you can imagine.

I’m so grateful that our editorial staff was understanding throughout all of this. It was important for us to maintain some semblance of a positive attitude this week, to laugh at ourselves and to be friends for each other to get through the stress.

More than anything, this week showed us that you can figure out anything, even if it seems hopeless – and believe me, it seemed pretty hopeless this week. I think we all amazed ourselves with how much we were able to problem solve this week.

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