Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive to be digitized, National Endowment for the Humanities announces major grant

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – More than 30,000 videotaped hours of television
news programming will be preserved digitally through a grant awarded to
the Vanderbilt Television News Archive by the National Endowment for
the Humanities.

Vanderbilt officials announced Monday that they had been notified that the grant for $281,154 had been approved.

"This grant is going to save the material from extinction,"

Vanderbilt University Librarian Paul M. Gherman said. "If we did
nothing, this collection would be unusable in three to five years."

At stake is an important and always-growing cultural history of the
United States, and a rich database for researchers investigating a wide
array of issues from bias in the news media to how advertising has
changed over the years.

The grant funds a two-year project to transfer programming recorded
by the archive dating back to 1968 from three-quarter-inch U-Matic
videotape to MPEG-2 digital video. The three-quarter-inch videotape
format is nearly defunct, with playback equipment and spare parts
increasingly hard to find.

A portion of the NEH grant comes from its "We The People" project
which encourages the teaching of United States history and culture by
supporting programs that explore significant themes and events that
advance knowledge of the principles that define America.

"We’re delighted that the NEH looked favorably on our digital
preservation project," said Marshall Breeding, library technology
officer at Vanderbilt. "They fully funded our proposal."

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive was conceived by the late
Paul C. Simpson, a Nashville insurance executive and Vanderbilt
alumnus. Simpson championed the concept of an independent archive
for television news, and persuaded Vanderbilt University to take on the
project initially as a three-month experiment in 1968. The
archive was sustained in its early years primarily through foundation
funding. Recently, a fee-based subscription service has been
launched to provide financial support.

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive works in close partnership
with the Library of Congress, which will be the permanent repository of
the digital content it records.

"Given the enormous quantity of storage involved, this is a
particularly challenging responsibility," Breeding said. "The
large-scale digital preservation facilities of the Library of Congress
will help to ensure that this collection will be available to
researchers generations into the future."

The Library of Congress and the Vanderbilt Television News Archive
have worked together for many years to preserve national television
news programming. Before the archive switched to digital formats
last year, the Library of Congress received videotape copies.

The archive will have wider availability after the transfer to
digital format. Currently, in order to view the material, researchers
must either visit the archive in Nashville or request a videotape
loan. The archive creates copies of complete programs or
compilations of assorted video clips on videotape for researchers
through a fee-based service.

The abstracts and indexes made of each show are as valuable as the
footage. Those allow researchers to pinpoint the shows they want, and
allow for statistical studies of topics such as how often certain
events are portrayed on the news.

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive has collected every newscast
of ABC, NBC and CBS since Aug. 5, 1968. It has recorded one hour of CNN
programming per day since 1995. It also records Nightline, presidential
speeches and news conferences and political conventions. In addition,
coverage of important events such as the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks,
Watergate and the two Persian Gulf wars is collected.

It’s the most extensive archive of its kind in the world. While the
networks operate archives that include large collections of footage,
and even whole programs, their archives are geared to their internal
production operations rather than researchers. The Vanderbilt
Television News Archive is unique in its collection of complete news
broadcasts of all the major networks open to the general public with a
videotape loan program that allows remote researchers to view material
at affordable fees.

"We reproduce the cultural experience that people had in their
living rooms when the newscasts first aired," Breeding said. "The
archive records the advertising as well as the news content, adding yet
another interesting dimension to the collection.

Cecelia Tichi, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at
Vanderbilt, calls the Vanderbilt Television News Archive "an invaluable
resource in scholarly and classroom projects."

"While the value of preserving the nation’s newspapers dating to the
18th century has been long recognized, only Vanderbilt University took
the initiative to record and preserve the news as broadcast on
television," Tichi said. "Beyond factual news content, the archived
broadcasts show important changes in style, direction and production of
the news."

Technology will continue to evolve, and the digital formats now being used will eventually become obsolete.

"The collection will inevitably need to be transferred to new
formats in the future," Breeding said. "We anticipate that
refreshing the collection from one digital format to another will be
much easier than migrating the collection from videotape, the project
made possible through this generous grant from the NEH."

The NEH grant follows a one-year investigation funded by the
National Science Foundation that allowed the archive to design the
equipment and processes that will be used to digitize the
collection. The archive converted its off-air recording operation
from videotape to digital in August of 2003.

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

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