Marion Stokes’ 40,000 TV news recordings slowly come online

Fast Company | On The Media

Marion Stokes taped about 35 years worth of television news before her death in 2012, and now those tapes are slowly being digitized.

Sarah Kessler first reported the story for Fast Company in November of last year. On Tuesday, Kessler wrote about the man who heard Stokes’ story and started volunteering with Internet Archive, where the digitization is taking place.

And there aren’t 140,000 VHS tapes, as Fast Company and Poynter wrote back in November. Just 40,000. The family overestimated. Kessler reported that the volunteer, Trevor von Stein, has spent about 6 weeks so far with the original recordings.

It’s not immediately obvious, however, exactly why it is useful to have this 45-year-old snapshot of intellectual discourse available online. Like many archivists, von Stein argues that’s not the point of preserving historical media. “I don’t know if it’s the Archive’s or my job to figure out what good this will be for history in all of specificity,” he says. “I have no idea what could come of this research material. I just want to see it happen.”

On Wednesday, PJ Vogt wrote about the tapes for On The Media. Vogt includes a previous interview OTM conducted with Stokes’ son, Michael Metelits, about his mother and her many collections. The biggest became her videotapes of the news, which she started recording in the ’70s.

“One of the real triggers was not just CNN but also Nightline during the Iranian hostage crisis … I think that really convinced her that there was a lot of news that might be lost if somebody didn’t collect it. And she just channelled her natural, if you will, hoarding tendency to this task.”

Kessler wrote that digitizing all of Stokes’ tapes may cost as much as $500,000, “and most of that money still needs to be raised.”

You can see Stokes (then Marion Metelits), who co-produced a local Philadelphia program called “Input,” on Internet Archive now. This is about an hour long, but now a small slice of the news happening at that time continues to exist, just as Stokes wanted.

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  • harryeagar

    Of course it will be useful, sometime to somebody. Who would have predicted how useful the Army’s aerial reconnaissance photos of No Gun Ri would have become, but when a false atrocity story was published they were invaluable.