Samples of the WSJV News Collection

Several years ago, as a graduate researcher at the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, I kept having these vivid flashes of straight-up authenticity while examining news photographs. I was looking at Anthony Spina’s original prints of the 1967 “Twelfth Street riots” (largest urban uprising in U.S. history) for the Detroit Free Press. Something about handling these pre-published documentary photographs, that I had seen for years reproduced in hundreds of places, felt exceptionally raw and real. I grew up familiar with Detroit–it’s where my paternal roots are, and my dad and I visited family many times a year. This archival experience, though, provided me the most powerful connection I’ve ever felt with that city. Since then, I have understood how significant uncompromising self-representation and documentation is for communities.

A couple hundred miles south and a few years later, I was seeking out an internship with the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive as an MLS candidate in the Department of Information and Library Science. I developed a keen interest in videotape and television preservation in IULMIA archivist Andy Uhrich’s Moving Image Preservation seminar. Andy proposed that I work with a new accession of thousands of videotapes from a defunct broadcast television news station in Elkhart, Indiana. Very little was known about the collection, except that the contents were a seeming mish-mash of pre-broadcast news components. I jumped at the opportunity and have found that the WSJV News Collection presents some of the most exciting opportunities and deepest challenges for archives to fill a significant gap in the documentation of regional communities in an era of media globalization.

A screen grab of a WSJV segment on student demonstrations in South Bend, Indiana. July 26, 1995.
A screen grab of a WSJV segment on student demonstrations in South Bend, Indiana. July 26, 1995.

WSJV was a broadcast television news station with major network affiliations from 1954-2016. The station used a range of technological advancements in broadcast news production across the 20th century. This includes broadcast production transitioning from film (kinescope), to magnetic videotape, to born digital recordings. Like most other television stations, WSJV utilized different videotape formats for most of its history. Long running stations like WSJV found that keeping a tape library was quite useful for ongoing news production. The tapes could help producers find, for example, b-roll and sound bytes without having to go out and shoot in the field. This collection appears to contain WSJV’s entire videotape library from 1981-2011.

A screen grab of the opening animation for The Garden Club, a regular WSJV program featuring gardening advice with Mike Maloney. September 19, 1990.
A screen grab of the opening animation for The Garden Club, a regular WSJV program featuring gardening advice with Mike Maloney. September 19, 1990.

It’s somewhat rare for an archive to have and provide access to a broadcast news station videotape library. Archives and special collections across the United States do provide access to exceptional broadcast news collections. Some examples of these are endeavors initiated by the Association of Moving Image Archivists Local Television Project, including the Minnesota Historical Society/KSTP-TV Archive, Arkansas Educational Television Network Video Vault, and Boston TV News Digital Library. I’ll be talking about institutions and projects such as these in a later blog post. These collections largely provide access to documented whole broadcasts. Fewer institutions offer minimally curated (by the creating station) collections of news videotape libraries. The enormous richness of these objects is due both to their quantity and to their pre-broadcast, in-situ production use. The components on each tape (roughly 40 each) vary from “raw” in-the-field footage with no edits, to partially edited voiceover/sound byte segments, to more fully edited news story packages. Each tape has a chronological sequence of these components over a one- to six-month range. The effect while watching these is of a slice-of-life, informational sense of history. The raw connection you feel watching these tapes is akin to the experience I had several years ago at the Reuther. Rather than one city, though, WSJV documents an entire midwestern region.

Screen grab of a WSJV segment about the Bayer Corporation plant in Elkhart, Indiana. July 1983.
Screen grab of a WSJV segment about the Bayer Corporation plant in Elkhart, Indiana. July 1983. The plant closed in 2006.

WSJV was major broadcast television affiliate for the “Michiana” region (northwest Indiana and the southwest tip of Michigan) 1954-2016. Michiana was a unique television market because it was a “UHF island” bounded by metropolitan areas to the north (Grand Rapids, MI and Milwaukee, WI), east (Detroit), south (Indianapolis), and west (Chicago). In other words, WSJV provided broadcast television news coverage for consumers without access to major metropolitan stations. The history of the region in the 20th century combines themes relevant to the rust belt cities that surround Michiana and the Great Lakes, including massive deindustrialization, changing racial and ethnic populations and resulting civil rights struggles, and public health concerns. The stories represented in the WSJV collection are extenuations of this regional history.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be opening up this collection in a series of blog posts. I’ll explain the history of WSJV, show how the collection can be used to research a significant topic (the AIDS epidemic in Indiana and Ryan White’s story), and provoke some questions that this collection asks of the archival profession. Overall, I want to give you a general sense of how we can process a collection like this and what it offers. The following video is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the range of content the WSJV News Collection offers (in just a few short minutes!). This is a compilation of segments from the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s. The segments feature a range of broadcast news production formats, including voiceovers, sound bytes, raw b-roll footage, a full package, and a recorded broadcast.

A Conversation with Caroline Frick

Caroline Frick currently juggles responsibilities for no fewer than three positions, which include the Founder and Executive Director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), Assistant Professor at University of Texas at Austin, and President of the Board for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).

After studying history and film at the University of East Anglia, Frick worked for the National Archives, Library of Congress, and Warner Bros., and ran the Film Preservation Festival for the AMC cable television network.  She then moved to Austin, Texas where she earned her PhD in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at The University of Texas at Austin in 2005.   While working on her PhD, Frick founded the Texas Archive of the Moving Image in 2002: “My educational and professional experiences contributed very much to starting a regional film archive; most importantly, the master’s program I attended was housed in a regional archive,” she says. Also influential in her decision to found TAMI was her work running the National Film Registry Tour for the Library of Congress, in which major Hollywood features were screened alongside more obscure footage produced within the state. “Many times, there were longer lines for local film events than Hollywood’s most famous titles” she says, before adding, “The US has an incredibly rich moving image history that is still undiscovered and unwritten.  Industrial filmmaking, educational productions and advertising materials provide equally valuable insight to our historical past…by the time I got to Texas, I was primed and interested in this type of material. Texas is unique because it has been so highly profiled – often erroneously – in Hollywood films.” Frick’s work with TAMI blends both her personal and research interests in Hollywood history and local materials.  For her academic research, she finds it fascinating “how different national or regional contexts have defined preservation –related terms and how different contexts have similarly or differently taken approaches to preserving materials.”

Snake King of Brownsville, c. 1914
Snake King of Brownsville, c. 1914

“What TAMI aspires to be is a hub to bring together people and organizations interested in ensuring long-term preservation and access to moving image,” she says, noting that the expense of preservation often ensures it remains a low priority. TAMI’s access-driven mission aims to raise awareness of the value of films in historical collections: “People need to see this material to understand the value of it,” Frick notes. “One of our current projects is to raise money to revamp the look of our curated collections, especially with an eye towards greater use by K-12 educaters and so-called ‘lifelong learners.’ There’s nothing more fulfilling than introducing our content to people who’ve never seen it or thought about it before – the realization in their eyes and the excitement.”

Galveston Bathing Girl Revue, 1925
Galveston Bathing Girl Revue, 1925

Outreach initiatives at TAMI include the Texas Film Round-Up, a free digitization service for any individual or organization with state-related audiovisual materials. Once digitized, the films are added to TAMI’s online library, and the supplying organization receives a copy as well as the original artifacts.  A small museum exhibit denoting both the history of film and broadcasting in the region as well as preservation techniques travels with the program.  The Texas Film Round-Up often screens collection material which helps dispel some of the erroneous notions people have of the state’s media history.  “For example, a lot of people think of Texas film and think of Hollywood cowboys – our collection reveals so much more!” Frick notes.

Bloom (2012), produced as part of TAMI’S Mess with Texas program

Another initiative, Mess with Texas, is a collaborative effort between TAMI and Texas art museums, in which video artists are given audiovisual materials and encouraged to “mess with them.”  The project’s name is a clever nod to the Don’t Mess with Texas environmental campaign.

Having served as President of the AMIA board since 2011, Frick sees her current roles within both TAMI and AMIA intersecting with one another: “Sometimes when you’re working on something that’s more narrowly focused with a refined, geographically-focused mission, it really helps to keep abreast of what’s happening on national and international levels…[AMIA gives us] a unique, level playing field for us to talk with one another.”  As AMIA board members represent various components of the organization’s membership, “having a sense of where many of our different voices come from is quite helpful.”

Much like her work with TAMI, Frick wants to see AMIA work further to raise public awareness of the value of AV preservation.  “The fantastic work of our members helps communicate to the public why [film archivists] are here, what we’re doing, and why it matters.” Last year’s beta test of the Festival of the Archives, in partnership with the Seattle International Film Festival, helped raise awareness of the preservation efforts undertaken by media archives around the country; it’s something Frick hopes to see continue in the future. “Just because you turn on the television and you see a black and white movie doesn’t mean it’s going to be there forever…ultimately, we try to keep material alive for as long as possible.”

Frick argues that, as the preservation field continues to grow and evolve, with formats becoming increasingly obsolete, “there’s going to be more awareness over time for the need of this kind of work, coming from a variety of different sectors.”  Frick hopes that AMIA will continue to bring together divergent voices from a number of professional settings, but remarks that engaging with diverse groups can sometimes be a challenge: “What I fear is the increased tension between those who are very much dedicated to conservation of film material and those who are advocating for constant migration of data. (i.e., what do we prioritize, content vs. carrier?) My biggest hope is to see that all of us are talking about the same thing.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Frick argues that “there’s no better time to get involved with the media preservation community. There are so many exciting opportunities developing in so many different sectors if one is open to the ways audiovisual preservation can be defined.”

~Kaitlin Conner

Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute

Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI)
Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI)

Like a newly donated film, there is much more to Jean-Louis Bigourdan than initially meets the eye.  On the surface, Jean-Louis lives a pastoral life –he lives on a farm complete with sheep and horses.  However, after interviewing him and hearing about his work at the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) in New York, it became clear that Jean-Louis also has a mind for science and art.  Jean Louis’ official title is research scientist, but his job requires a bit more clarification.  He explained,

My primary job is to conduct applied research focusing on providing new preservation strategies for cultural materials, mostly information-recording media such as films, microfilms, photographs, magnetic tapes… This includes identifying a problem, designing a research project to address the problem, developing a proposal and applying for funding, conducting the research, and disseminating findings by providing preservation strategies to museums, archives, and libraries.

Since I started at IPI I was fortunate enough to be able to go from one project to the next, and often dealt with several at the same time. What I do is a mix between conducting experiments, field surveys, data analysis, and providing education. For a number of years, I have also provided guidance to interns who come to IPI through the AMIA and Selznick School of Film Preservation; these internships are designed to provide insights into preservation research; I personally learn a lot from the interns and hope they learn a lot during their stay. All of them have contributed in various ways to the work we do at IPI.

Ipi_logo_new_2009_outlines

Jean-Louis has a background in chemistry and photography and has also studied the conservation of photographic materials.  His interest in film preservation began when he took a weeklong workshop on film preservation from Anne Cartier-Bresson.  He feels this broad and varied background has been quite beneficial in his current work, noting that,

I didn’t realize it at first, but in fact, the different parts fit well together to support my current activity. Chemistry, team work in the corporate world, studies in photography, museums and archives experience, studies in conservation and preservation of photographic materials, and the last twenty years or so working at IPI help a great deal to do what I do.

Because of Jean Louis’ extensive work with film, I was particularly interested in his thoughts on the end of film production.  Jean Louis feels that the end of film production makes film preservation all that more vital.  He explained,

[The end of film production] doesn’t mean that film preservation is dead, on the contrary. Film-based collections are numerous, and most importantly are irreplaceable. Today, preserving original film materials is even more critical for a couple of reasons. First, there is so much knowledge recorded on photographic film that reformatting most of it is daunting at least, and most likely an impossible task. Second, in many situations, viewing the original materials will still be the only way to appreciate the material. So, in both situations it is, and will be, an important task to make sure that these original objects survive as long as possible. To contrast that idea, I would say that most have no problem with the strategy, which consists in reformatting magnetic media as a preservation strategy. The old idea of preserving/restoring film using film media will have to be entirely abandoned at some point. People watch movies today in so many formats and venues. But many film collections will still be around if kept properly.

Jean Louis also emphasized the importance of film preservation in the specific context of his work and the work of the IPI.  When asked if he felt that his job might change with the end of film production, Jean Louis responded,

Not really, because as I said above, it is even more important today to do the best we can to preserve film materials, and movies in particular, in their original formats. Regarding film preservation today, my role, and IPI’s role is to make sure that what we have learned during twenty years of research is used, i.e., applied in the field in one form or another. In other words, I don’t think that we have to spend more money on research per se, but rather make a special effort to communicate and develop new tools. That is the idea behind the project I am working on right now. IPI receives funding from NEH to develop a web-based tool for film preservation: www.filmcare.org will be an educational but also a film preservation management tool.

After hearing about Jean Louis’ fascinating work at the Image Permanence Institute and his confidence in the necessity of the continuation of innovative work in film preservation, it would be difficult not to want to get involved.  It is fitting, then, to end with Jean Louis’ excellent advice for aspiring film archivists:

As I say often, preserving film is not only about film. Film archivists are responsible for many other materials, i.e., posters, publications, letters, scripts, stills, DVD, tapes… so the more you learn about other media and how to care for them, the better film archivists you will be.

~Colleen Martin