Delivering the Mueller Report in Eleven Links

With bated breath, many awaited the publication and the release of the Mueller report in late April. While others focused on the content of the report, there were those more focused on the nature of the challenges associated with production and distribution of the report in digital as well as print formats. How did this high-profile material reach the public? And in what shape was it when it arrived?

Digital First

The Mueller report was initially presented to the public via the Web in the form of PDF files uploaded to the Department of Justice’s website. An analysis by the PDF Association noted the mundane machinery used to do so, saying that “based on its metadata, the PDF released by the DOJ was produced using Ricoh MP 6C502 software, probably a typical office network copier / printer.” By supplying an images-only version of the redacted Mueller report, the DOJ minimized the usefulness of the PDF document for other uses such as searchability (additional analysis from the PDF Association, Even with OCR, the Mueller Report PDF isn’t Fully Searchable). As the association noted, the PDF, as uploaded to the DOJ web site, did not conform to the archival standard for such files (ISO 19005, PDF/A).

Recognizing that deficiency, other entities worked to supply word-searchable versions of the report by uploading versions to Scribd. There were speed bumps in that approach, as noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Produced by the United States Department of Justice, the Mueller Report immediately went into the public domain. However, as the EFF noted, filtering software identified usable versions of the report that had been uploaded to Scribd as violating copyright. A report from Quartz provided illuminating snippets from the email notifications sent from ScribD regarding such automatically “disabled access”. While the Quartz version of the Mueller Report was reinstated within 17 minutes of the initial takedown, there was concern that the recently approved Article 13 in the European Union could lead to similar experiences under parallel circumstances.

Within a week of the original release, the Department of Justice did fulfill its legal responsibility to provide a fully-accessible version of the controversial report. (See additional Quartz reporting here.)

Print Productions

According to a news story appearing in the Harvard Crimson, the Harvard Book Store was fulfilling orders within 24 hours of the reports’ release by generating print-on-demand from their on-site Espresso Book Machine. By virtue of the redactions appearing in the report (estimated to be something between 8 and 11% of the total number of pages), the time required to print a single copy was 10 minutes. According to bookstore owner Linda Seamonson quoted in the piece, this was twice the length of time usually needed to produce such on-demand materials. A Forbes article contains additional specifics about the Harvard Book Store experience.

A tweet thread from Dennis Johnson (Melville House’s @MobyLives) took his followers through the lengthy process of shepherding a PDF (with problems) through the print production process. Other editions were being delivered from Scribners (in cooperation with the Washington Post) and from Skyhorse. (Vox spoke with all three print publishers about their plans well in advance of the actual release.)

The Takeaway

Rapid production and dissemination of long-form content is by no means an impossibility in the 21st century. When a particularly impatient audience is awaiting that content, it becomes even more important to be transparent in what is being done and why. The role of standards (whether formal or informal) emerges most clearly in situations such as these. The on-going engagement of the information community with NISO ensures the best outcome for consumers and for providers.