The City Record was created by reformers to monitor city business in the wake of several municipal scandals. City law still mandates its publication, in the interest of governmental transparency, and to satisfy state laws requiring legal notices to be posted in a print publication.
The paper serves as a mirror to an ever-changing city, said Jonathan Soffer, a New York University history professor organizing the digitization of The City Record. He likes to cite old listings such as a sanitary code item from the May 1, 1874, issue that specified the streets and times that livestock could be driven through Manhattan streets.
So far the digitized database runs from 1873 through 1947 and can search more than 1 million pages.
“It’s an overview of the infrastructure of the city,” he said. “Every contract, every payment, every bid. You have budgets and election results, precinct by precinct.”
Some of the paper’s language retains a dated tone, such as a recurring notice by the Police Department’s property clerk that lists unclaimed items ranging from furniture and furs to “surgical and musical instruments.” The listing describes the items as being “obtained from prisoners, emotionally disturbed, intoxicated and deceased persons; and property obtained from persons incapable of caring for themselves.”
Mr. Blachman said he has done his best to modernize the paper since becoming the editor in 1995, after working at a Yiddish-language newspaper in Brooklyn.
Since 2004, when listings began to be posted online, print circulation has declined steadily, and is down to 379 print subscriptions, Mr. Blachman said.
Most print copies are delivered by mail to government officials’ offices, to some libraries and to a handful of “old-time lawyers who don’t use the internet,” said Mr. Blachman, who lives in Brooklyn and has nine children. Single copies also can be purchased at the paper’s newsroom in Lower Manhattan.