by Robert Johnson
One of the most interesting things about working on the WHDH-TV collection was being able to read about news stories in Boston during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each of the estimated 39,000 cards in the WHDH card catalog corresponds to one piece of 16mm film footage (occasionally more than one) that is located in one of 2,300 film cans. Each can holds multiple reels of film, however, and each reel apparently can be composed of many different pieces of footage spliced together. Nobody is quite sure yet because we haven’ t yet been able to look at all of the reels of film.
I have been transcribing some of these cards into a database in order to make them searchable and sortable. Perhaps my favorite index card I transcribed was the one about a “bizarre kidnapping and hold-up attempt” at the Brockton Fair in July of 1970. The next card was for an interview with a seven-year-old kid about the hold-up. Was he the victim? The culprit? I have no idea. I would love to be able to watch the actual film for these two cards.
There were also a dozen or so cards about Judge Brogna, who was implicated in a bribery scandal in late 1971/early 1972 and later censured for accepting phone calls from a fellow judge (who himself was disbarred for accepting bribes) and not reporting them. According to news articles I found online he was never accused of being offered or accepting a bribe. Nonetheless, the governor of Massachusetts at the time asked him to resign. He refused.
There are also more than 20 cards about two robberies involving Brink’s trucks: one in 1968 and the more famous one in 1950 (The Great Brinks Robbery, as it is known). Boston University the topic of many cards, as was Boston City Hospital and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Senator Edward Brooke had lots of cards, too, as did Francis X. Bellotti and William Baird. Can you tell I was in the “B” drawer? One of the Bellotti cards referred to him as a “victim of Harold Stassen syndrome” and I did not understand the reference until I learned that Stassen was a politician known for his numerous failed bids for president of the United States.
There are also a number of cards about the NASA, the Apollo 11 mission and astronauts. And plenty of celebrities: Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Cid Ceaser, Imogene Coca and Doctor Spock. As someone born more than a decade after WHDH-TV ceased to exist, there were many occasions when political figures both local and national were unfamiliar. I often found myself doing research that may not have necessarily had any impact on the database I was building but certainly helped me understand what many of the news stories were about. Someday, when all of these card describing the collection are digital and online, I can only imagine the value they will offer to students and researchers alike!
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.
by Robert Johnson
My internship at the WGBH Media Library and Archives came about when I was unable to take a course on moving image collections so someone suggested I set up an independent study with the WGBH. After a few e-mails and a preliminary meeting in May, starting in early September I began taking the T and a bus to WGBH twice a week.
Growing up in Connecticut, I am sure I occasionally watched WGBH or at least saw programs it produced, like The New Yankee Workshop. But I have never been a big follower of public television. These days I watch History Detectives (produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting) and Hometime (produced in part by WHYY, Wilmington/Philadelphia) on whichever PBS station is running them. Not that it really mattered. The opportunity to intern at a television station’s archive was thrilling.
Having never worked with moving images before perhaps the biggest challenge was shifting from a mindset of finding aids (documents best used to describe collections of manuscripts) to one of databases. WGBH does not use finding aids. They use databases. They have one very big one and a number of smaller, more specific ones for individual projects/collections. The big one is actually four separate databases that often overlap. Or at least that is the way I understand it. It has been difficult at times trying to understand how anyone can keep track of anything when information is spread across four interrelated databases but somehow everyone here manages just fine.
I was given a tour of the “Vault” when I first started. It is a secure, climate-controlled room with movable shelves that holds a portion of WGBH’s films, videotapes and related documents. There is also an off-site storage area that I have been told is an interesting place to visit. Much of what goes on here is a bit of a mystery to me, particularly the media library portion of the Media Library and Archives. I have been able to sit in on quite a few meetings and even participated in a few, albeit briefly and probably not all that helpfully. I get to work in my very own cubicle, which is a first for me, and I have a nice WGBH security card that opens a good number of doors. I hope I get to keep it when I finish.