Ever think about life in Buffalo back in the 1960s and 70s? How did Western New York manage to navigate through some of the most dramatic social, economic, and political upheavals that changed our city, state, and country forever?
Now, thanks to the Buffalo Broadcasters Association (BBA), you can actually see how this history played out, as captured through the lens of local television news reporters and photographers. The very first postings are now available on the New York Heritage website, under Digital Collections.
The BBA has been granted licensing rights to the newsfilm and early videotape archives from WIVB-TV (CBS affiliate) and WKBW-TV (ABC affiliate). Selected stories are being digitized and posted, both on the New York Heritage and Buffalo Broadcasters Association websites. The first posting are from 1977 and include massive layoffs at the Bethlehem Steel Plant, the Blizzard of ’77, and the mayoral race between Jimmy Griffin and Arthur O. Eve.
Founding BBA board member and treasurer, Herb Flemming, who has managed the collection at a warehouse leased to the Broadcasters Association by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority says, “This is a monumental undertaking because of the decades of film available.
Flemming notes that many Buffalo veteran TV news reporters and photographers who are now retired, have offered to identify people and events appearing in the archival footage. He says, “We’re very lucky to have access to those who lived the experiences in the field.”
Retired WIVB-TV Senior Correspondent Rich Newberg, who now co-chairs the BBA’s Archive Committee, says, “People of all ages will marvel at Buffalo’s historic role on the national stage. This archive will not only give an intimate account of the players and issues, as only local TV news can do, but will also trace some of the sweeping movements in our country that had their roots in Western New York. Some examples include references to the birth of the modern civil rights movement (The Niagara Movement), huge environmental challenges (Love Canal and West Valley), and prison reform (Attica Uprising).”
The Archive Project has been decades in the making. Some of the founding members of the BBA actually rescued the newsfilm when it was considered “yesterday’s news” and discarded. BBA president Steve Reszka says stories of rescues are legendary. “My favorite is how a high-profile Buffalo broadcaster went dumpster diving to save film that a station threw out because they didn’t have space for it,” he said. “Imagine the history that would have been lost!”
A grant from the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC) enabled the launching of the BBA’s TV News Film and Videotape Collection. Heidi Ziemer, WNYLRC’s Outreach and Digital Services Coordinator, notes this is a first for the Council and New York Heritage. “We’ve had photos, maps, oral histories, documents,” says Ziemer, “but we haven’t had anything like TV news film and video.” She says there is another dimension added through the “expressions and tone of voice that comes through in the video, that does not come through in the documents a lot of times.”
Ziemer sees expanded uses for this priceless resource. “I think that classroom use is going to be fantastic for students, to compare how news was covered in the past, how themes and topics have changed over time, including civil rights and natural disasters. It’s one thing to tell my children about The Blizzard of ’77. It’s another to see what it was like.”
WIVB-TV General Manager Dominic Mancuso and the station’s parent company Nexstar were the first to sign the new licensing agreements. Mancuso says of the collection, “It will allow students, historians, and others to explore the rich history of Buffalo through the eyes of local television newscasts, just as residents viewed it when it happened.” He adds, “Reading about it is one thing, but actually being able to see it is so much more comprehensive an experience. We thought it was a great idea.”
WKBW-TV General Manager Mike Nurse agrees, “There’s nothing more powerful than the combination of video as it’s happening and the spoken word.” He sees local TV news as a credible chronicle of history because the stations’ journalists seek to report “without prejudice or agenda.” He adds, “I think in the day and age when there are attacks on media (alleging) ‘fake news,’ etc., I think it’s even more important that we stand up for both the role and the importance that local media plays in our society, and I think foremost in that is our local TV stations.
Channels 4 and 7 will also receive all the digitized material, which they can use to their own advantage. The BBA is hoping WGRZ-TV, Channel 2, will also commit to the project. Access to the collection by the public, libraries, students, teachers, and researchers is restricted to educational use only. Those seeking commercial use of the footage must contact the BBA or the television stations where the footage originated.
Rich Newberg points out that the benefits from the collection are multi-faceted. “The beauty of television news is that every daily news report seeks to put an issue or event into context, so it easily can be grasped by a mass audience.” By retrieving this archive, he says, “we can actually trace the history of virtually any subject covered by Buffalo television news stations. We will learn from the past in a clear and concise manner, and apply those lessons to our future development.” Newberg adds, “Actually seeing how we weathered some of history’s greatest challenges, should give us the knowledge and confidence that only comes with the gift of self-discovery.”