Don’t get too excited. The 350,000 broadcasts only date back to June 2009, so you won’t be seeing any broadcasts from The Camel Newsreel Theater or The DuMont Evening News. As The New York Times reports, the Internet Archive’s TV News collection is made up of some 350,000 individual broadcasts of more than 1,000 different news programs from 20 channels, including ABC, CBS and NBC as well as TeleFutura, PBS, Fox News, CSPAN and Comedy Central. The broadcasts can be searched via closed captioning and previewed in 30 second chunks. If you want to see the entire program you can “borrow” a DVD for $50. Although the ability to stream and the depth of the search feature are impressive, you can already search news broadcasts dating back to August 1968 at the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, although rates for borrowing can range as high as $100 per half hour.
Personally, I find the Vanderbilt interface easier to use than the Internet Archive one. Plus, you can browse the Vanderbilt collection by date and unless I’m missing something that isn’t possible at the Internet Archive. But being able preview broadcasts (or, if you’re willing to watch in 30 second chunks, the entire thing) is a big step forward for accessibility. Supposedly, the collection will expand backwards and forwards, with past broadcasts added in addition to future ones:
As enormous as the news collection is, it is only the beginning, Mr. Kahle said. The plan is to â€œgo backâ€ year by year, and slowly add news video going back to the start of television. That will require some new and perhaps more challenging methodology because the common use of closed-captioning only started around 2002. Mr. Kahle said some new technique, perhaps involving word recognition, would be necessary. â€œWe need some interface that is good enough and doesnâ€™t interrupt commerce enough that they get upset with us.â€ But the goals for the news service remain as ambitious as all the other services the Internet Archive has embarked upon. â€œYes, we want eventually to be able to make coverage of, say, the 1956 political conventions available,â€ Mr. Kahle said.
Going back to the start of television sadly isn’t going to happen simply because those news broadcasts no longer exist, at least not in large numbers, making any comprehensive collection impossible. But if the Internet Archive is someday able draw together surviving early television news broadcasts, it would be a wonderful resource for historians and researchers. Of particular interest to me would be all existing footage of President Kennedy’s assassination together in one place along the lines of the Internet Archive’s Understanding 9/11: A Television News Archive, making it possible to see exactly how events unfolded on television moment by moment.