The Newsroom blog

06 May 2020

Ten years of Broadcast News

Ten years ago, at 22:00 on 6 May 2010, the polls closed. Five minutes earlier, because that is when the all-night news programmes began, we officially threw open the switches on the British Library’s Broadcast News service. The UK General Election felt like an appropriate start for what was an exciting new venture for the Library. We were going to create an archive of UK television and radio news broadcasts, recorded live.

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ITV's election night coverage, 6-7 May 2010

The reasons for setting up Broadcast News (for that was what we ended up calling the service) were two-fold. Firstly, the British Library wanted to establish a distinctive moving image archive that would fill a gap in existing provision for researchers. News was an ideal choice. Although there were television news collections available to academic researchers, they were limited to selected programmes from the main terrestrial channels, and our goal was to preserve and provide access to a far wider range of news broadcasts.

Secondly, the Library needed to respond to a changing news world. Its vast newspaper collection was a bedrock of British research, but in a digital age the form of news was changing. A more inclusive approach was required, once which encompassed print and web, TV and radio.

We started cautiously. On that first day we recorded four programmes: the BBC One and ITV all-night-election broadcasts, Channel 4’s Alternative Election, and BBC Radio 4’s all-night coverage (radio being part of the Broadcast News plans as well). The following day we recorded 15 programmes, widening coverage to include CNN, Al Jazeera English and BBC World Service.

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The Green Party's 'boy band' party election broadcast from 2015

Ten years on, and we now record from twenty-two channels, taking in around 30 hours of TV and 50 hours of radio each day. The total collection is just over 160,000 recordings, of which 102,000 are TV. We are recording television on a daily basis from Al Jazeera English, BBC One, BBC Scotland, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament, Channel 4, Channels 24 (Nigeria), CGTN (China), CNN (USA), Euronews (European Union), France 24, ITV1, NHK World (Japan), RT (Russia), Sky News, and our most recent addition, TRT World (Turkey). We record news programmes, documentaries, party political broadcasts, satirical news programmes, interviews, debates, news specials – anything that reflects the news in its broadest sense.

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NHK World coverage of the Japanese tsunami, 11 March 2011

With programmes recorded from channels in America, China, France Japan, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia and Turkey, we have good international coverage, but strictly speaking they are all British news, which is why we record from them. Al-Jazeera English, CGTN, CNN, NHK World and the others each have offices in the UK, and are all licensed with Ofcom. That broader sense of what comprises British news is an important part of the Broadcast News mission.

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Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, Sky News, 9 November 2016

Over those ten years we have built up an archive of extraordinary news events. The UK has had four general elections and three referendums (on changing the voting system, Scottish independence and Brexit). We have seen the ‘Arab Spring’, the UK riots of 2011, the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012 and 2016, the Japanese tsunami, the death of Nelson Mandela, the Euro crisis, the rise and fall of Isis, the Syrian conflict, the era of Donald Trump, and now the coronavirus pandemic.

The latter story, ongoing of course, has demonstrated how television still governs our world of news. Newspapers (increasingly in digital form) and social media play their part, of course, but in a crisis we turn to television. It speaks to us individually yet seemingly connects us with everyone else. It is both public and private, live and yet composed. The social experience of television news, as well as its content, is why we archive it.

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The first daily government update on Coronavirus, BBC One, 16 March 2020

However, these are also remarkable times for radio. Radio, particularly community radio, has come into its own during the coronavirus pandemic, bringing together information, entertainment and a reassuring, local voice. As part of the British Library’s Save our Sounds programme we have established a pilot off-air radio archiving pilot, which greatly extends the number of radio programmes we are able to capture. There will be more news on that particular venture in due course.

Broadcast News is normally available in the British Library’s St Pancras and Boston Spa reading rooms. These are closed for the time being. There is no online access to Broadcast News, for reasons of copyright, but records of the programmes we have recorded up to the middle of 2019 can be found on the Explore catalogue. But the archive continues, hour by hour, day by day, turning live news into permanent record of our extraordinary times.