The Poynter Center

I recently processed digitized media from the Poynter Center records held by the University Archives.  The purpose of the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions is to advance the study and teaching of ethics and the materials I worked on reflect that focus. In addition, many of the works that I cataloged examined American institutions, such as the press, the branches of the government, and political parties. Nelson Poynter, Indiana University alumnus and founder of the institution, was a journalist himself, and was dedicated to journalistic ethics.

Portrait photograph of Nelson Poynter.
Portrait of Nelson Poynter. Archives Image No. P0021628.

I find the Poynter Center’s mission highly compelling; the institute was founded in reaction to the Watergate scandal back in the early 1970s. It focused on the causes behind a decline in trust behind American institutions. Even though the Watergate scandal was nearly 50 years ago, I think that the discussions around this event, and the general mistrust of the news from the time, are highly relevant today.

There are several programs the Center published, mostly in cooperation with WTIU, to cover these issues. These include Conversations on America, Citizen & Science, and About Time. They often speak with the same guests, which allows them to get a well-rounded view from their subjects.

One series of interviews and discussions I would highly recommend is the set from senator Andrew Young. Senator Young was a congregational minister and prominent leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and spoke on several Poynter Center programs about the movement and the political climate of the South during and before the movement. Young speaks from a place of optimism in the mid 70s, and illustrates the deep changes he observed in his and other communities in the South over the course of only a decade. Young’s discussion is a reminder not only of the history of racism and the fight for rights in this country, but an illustration of the work left to be done. Young’s optimism is a place where we can consider what hopes and promises have gone unfulfilled for the Black community in this country.

Young also comments in his interviews on the way that elections and the more local political climate changed after the expansion of enfranchisement in his and other southern districts. His description of pre-movement politics is, I think, a strikingly accurate statement today, over 60 years later. Young says:

“… you had a kind of politics where people catered to the fears of their constituents, the anxieties and frankly the ignorance of their constituents. If you got people worked up and emotional and afraid enough, then you got elected and could do as you pleased. With Blacks coming into the political system, you have candidates appealing to the better instincts of the voters… Because they have a constituency not based on fear, but who are following them because of their hopes and aspirations, they’re willing to do some more courageous things.”

It’s very easy to draw parallels between the politics of fear that Young describes and the politics of reaction and fear that prevails today. What Young’s discussion also shows is that it takes decisive action to break this cycle of fear.

The discussion that I’ve just laid out comes from about half of one thirty-minute program; this is where I see the terrific value in the Poynter Center recordings. Despite their age, they focus on issues fundamental enough that they can serve as the beginning of a discussion on American institutions and issues 50 years later. I could have, as easily, discussed the views of a Poynter fellow on the press and compared it to today. Andrew Young’s interviews are just one particularly important and relevant example of this.

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on any of the topics that these Poynter Center lectures cover; however, I clearly see their usefulness. The other thing I clearly see is a need to continue the conversations started in these programs. The atmosphere of uncertainty, of questioning, of doubt around the political institutions of 1972, and the spirit which founded the Poynter Center, is keenly felt today. I think that discussing our issues in this formal way, removed from the cycles and pressures of the news while still concentrating on the salient issues, has tremendous value in our current world.

We need to reinvest in the Poynter Center concept; to bring it into the modern day and direct it at our institutions and issues. The Center as it exists today is not the same; it has no dedicated building (they left their previous one in 2016) and is incorporated into the Media School. Their programming is limited. However, the Poynter Center’s potential is still immense. It’s no coincidence that Andrew Young’s interviews are still so relevant today. The issues addressed by the Poynter Center are often enduring. With and adjustment of scope and focus for the issues of our time, we have the opportunity to contribute to a serious understanding of how to improve our society, not just for now but for a long time to come.

The Poynter Center Building
The Poynter Center building on Third Street circa 1956. The Center vacated the building in 2016. Archives photo P0022315.

MDPI Updates – Byrnes, REEI, Poynter Center & more!

In 2015, Indiana University launched the system-wide Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative (MDPI), with the goal of reformatting and saving deteriorating media and film that could be found across all of the Indiana University campuses. To date, more than 344,000 audio, video, and film have been digitized.

At the University Archives, in some instances, we knew who deposited or transferred the media, but so many lacked description — and we lacked the proper equipment to safely play or view many of the items – that we are just now discovering what we actually had in our holdings. It has been a long road to figure out copyright and privacy issues surrounding the digitized media but late last year, we were given the green light to begin working our way through the “dark archive” and begin making them accessible. Access levels are worldwide, IU-login, or restricted. Nearly all materials can be viewed upon request for individual researchers, however, and item descriptions can be found via our collection finding aids in ArchivesOnline. For the past several months, I have shared internally what was being published but it seemed these updates should be shared more broadly! And so, without further ado….

All of these items can be accessed via Media Collections Online (MCO). Some may require IU log-in for immediate access; click on the Sign In link in the upper right hand corner of the MCO web site.

New project:

In April, Archives student Andrew wrote a post about his work on recordings from the Robert Byrnes papers, and specifically, a series of films Byrnes recorded circa 1959 on Russian history for distance education purposes. These films have since been processed through Kaltura for automatic transcription and now our wonderful graduate student Stephanie is working on cleanup. When completed, the files will be moved back into MCO and they will be our FIRST films with closed captioning! The transcripts are fairly clean but it is still slow work, taking her about 4-6 hours per 30 minute recording (she says she spends a fair amount of time looking up the spelling of Russian individuals and places!).

https://media.dlib.indiana.edu/
Screenshot of Ruissan Revolutios and the Soviet Regime opening scene from Media Collections Online

Completed:

  • Commission on Multicultural Understanding recordings (45 items): Quite a bit of content related to the Benton Murals, including several “B” rolls of footage for the documentary, “The Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press: A Benton Mural in Woodburn Hall.” Collection also includes recordings of panels, meetings, speeches, or forums, as well as recordings collected by the Commission for educational purposes. Access level: Largely IU-only due to lack of releases from speakers, though some are because they are non-IU created content. Two recordings related to rape and campus safety have been made available Worldwide. If you are outside IU, see the collection finding aid for fuller description of the recordings that are not available and contact us for access requests.
  • Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics & American Institutions recordings (100 items): These are absolute gems. The items are primarily recordings of television programs IU’s Poynter Center created from the 1970s-1990s, including series such as “The Citizen and the News,” “A Poynter Center Report,” “Citizen & Science,” “Poynter Interviews on American Institutions” and “Conversations on America.” Each episode brought in outside politicians and reporters such as Lee Hamilton, then-Congressman Andrew Young, Jr. (went on to become the first African American US ambassador to the UN, later served as Atlanta’s mayor), and well-known journalist David Halberstam. Lots of focus on Vietnam, loss of public trust, politics and politicians, and how news is reported and how it helps form public opinion. Also included are campus lectures. Access level: Worldwide
  • Russian and East European Institute recordings (383 items): Consists largely of lectures spanning the 1960s-1990s, from both campus visitors and IU faculty. All audio. Local names you might recognize include Alex Rabinowitch, Charles Jelavich, and Charles Bonser.  Access level: IU, but descriptions can be found via the finding aid (see the “Programs” series); contact us for access!
  • Union Board recordings (291 items): “Live from Bloomington” albums, Dunn Meadow concerts, Dance Marathon recordings, Model UN events, and UB sponsored lectures and visitors, including Spike Lee, Bobby Knight, and June Reinisch. Access level: IU only, but we have Union Board records related to a lot of these events. We plan to do some research to see what kind of paperwork/releases we may have. In the meantime, see the descriptions in the Audiovisual series of the finding aid and let us know if you would like to access anything!
  • Allen Grimshaw recordings (116 items): Dr. Grimshaw was a Professor of Sociology at IU from 1959-1994. There are recordings related or used for his research, which focused heavily on sociolinguistics and how different disciplines studied the same speech event. Also includes classroom lectures. Access level: Mix of worldwide (classroom lectures), IU only (collected recordings), and Restricted (interviews with children, dissertation defense). Descriptions of the media can be found on his collection finding aid; contact us if you are outside IU and spot something you would like to see!

    Screen capture from Grimshaw recording of Soviet and American military personnel roundtable on nuclear disarmament.
    Screen capture from Grimshaw recording of Soviet and American military personnel roundtable on nuclear disarmament.

We have also located and pushed a few recordings in response to requests, all have Worldwide access:

In progress:

And that’s your MDPI update for the summer! Please let us know if you have any questions and definitely spend some time checking out the wonderful resources to be found in Media Collections Online! It’s pretty amazing what we have access to here at Indiana University. And as always, please let us know if you have any questions!

Look for the next update in a few months!