Robert the Intern's Story: The News Project

by Robert Johnson

The main project I’ve been working on during my internship at the WGBH Media Library and Archives is the Boston TV News Digital Library: 1960-2000. It is a collaboration between WGBH, the Boston Public Library, Northeast Historic Film and Cambridge Community TV.  Each of these institutions has collection of news footage from a local Boston television station. The idea is to eventually create a central catalog of the 4 collections so that they can inform one another and share metadata.

I focused on the Boston Public Library’s collection of film from the now defunct WHDH-TV (Channel 5), which it acquired in 1975.  The collection consists of some 2,300 film cans, each filled with a number of reels of 16mm film, and 39,000 index cards that document individual pieces of footage.  I spent part of my time entering these index cards into a Filemaker database.  I had never used Filemaker before but since all I was doing was copying text from the card and typing it into a pre-existing template, I found it pretty easy going.

Ultimately, I entered about 2,200 of the 39,000 WHDH-TV index cards into the Filemaker database. Still, with 2,200 records, the database was large enough to show that the collection is arranged roughly chronologically, with news stories from late 1972 located in the last of the estimated 2,300 film cans.  Nobody was quite sure how the news stories were arranged and even now there is always a chance that the can numbers on the index cards do not correspond to the actual film cans.  That has long been a concern of mine but hopefully when the collection is finally processed it will not be an issue.

I was able to visit the Boston Public Library, which has a small portion of the film collection on-site, twice during my internship.  The BPL also has as a wooden cabinet filled with the index cards.  While I was there I spent an hour and a half photographing about 300 individual cards.  Later, it was discovered that the index cards were microfilmed at some point and hopefully this microfilm can be digitized, meaning no more photographing.

I also put together a timeline of WHDH-TV using Google News, compiled a list of reporters named on the index cards, and wrote down some thoughts and ideas about a finding aid for the collection (while WGBH does not use finding aids, this project calls for them).  Once the project is fully funded, the preparation work I have done will be useful as a starting point for the project moving forward.

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