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Yesterday’s (and Last Year’s) Television, with a Click

Internet ArchiveI recently spent a morning demo'ing a fascinating experiment in digital archiving of television (free login required). The Internet Archive, a vast and improbable digital library both of traditional and emerging media, has started a new project to use some of its immense and mostly dark archive of 24/7 television news from around the world. You might remember their showcasing of 9/11 television, which I participated in, and which has since become a resource for journalists scholars.

Now it’s launching, just in time for the election, a site that holds the last three years of television--ads, bumpers, shows, everything--from a range of broadcast and cable networks, from ABC to Univision. The entire database is searchable. Do you want to know which network said Obamacare the most? On which program? Want to see how the media portray the Middle East turmoil? Want to know how Mitt Romney’s dog-on-the-roof or Olympics-gaffe story evolved and on which programs? No problem. You can watch it in relevant 30 second segments (the ones you searched for), and send a link to a friend or reference the link in a journalistic or academic article.

It’s getting attention already. Listen to Newton Minow, former FCC Chairman, the man who famously introduced the phrase “vast wasteland”: “The Internet Archive's TV news research service builds upon broadcasters' public interest obligations.  This new service offers citizens exceptional opportunities to assess political campaigns and issues, and to hold powerful public institutions accountable.” Or watch everyone from scholars to Mozilla and Wikipedia staffers explain what they want to do with it (choose “overview” to start).

Researchers both academic and independent, journalistic and otherwise, can ask questions in a hot political campaign season about TV's coverage, about advertising, about the progress of public debate on issues. They can show people what they’re talking about (if briefly--the service only shows you 30 seconds at a time, sigh, apparently in an attempt to be very conservative in its employment of fair use), and encourage discussion. 

This one’s for you. Get busy!