For most Americans, the 9/11 attacks unfolded through indelible images from television news. As the tenth anniversary of the attacks nears, these news broadcasts make up an immensely valuable, yet difficult to access record of history. In 2001, YouTube was three years away, many homes were still equipped with dial-up connections, and the significance and accessibility of online video was very limited. This means that most scholars’ ability to seek out, access, and cite television broadcast, even for events of massive significance such as 9/11, remains challenging.
The 9/11 Television News Archive is a project created by the Internet Archive. A mini-conference at NYU launched the project on Wednesday, bringing together a number of experts and scholars to discuss how television news shapes our perspectives on unfolding history and how we can preserve these media resources for future study.
The Internet Archive has been recording and archiving TV from 20 channels across many countries since early 2000, yet only a small fraction of it has been restored thus far. The Archive’s focus is on gathering news, which has become and will continue to be an invaluable source of historical-cultural information. Preserving these programs means creating a repository of unbiased data for future scholars looking to cite the records found in television’s perspective on important events.
The 9/11 Television Archive stands as an example of where these kinds of archives might be headed, as well as an indicator of its challenges – particularly over the course of a decade in which video and technology changed rapidly. Restoring the data of just one week’s worth of breaking news surrounding the event took two engineers over three weeks. The shows were on digital linear tape, since hard drives were too expensive in the early part of the decade, and were preserved in raw, unlabeled MPEG-PS format, with separate text files describing the file contents. Corruption issues over time further complicated the task, ultimately resulting in restoration of 93% of the available footage.
At this year’s conference, the archive will be accessible through a uniquely visual touchscreen interface. We are pleased to announce that this exhibit will be available at the 2011 OVC for attendees to experience. Stay tuned for more announcements from the Internet Archive at OVC.
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