So, you’re making a documentary. Awesome. And your subject gained some local notoriety back in 2003. Perfect. So you go to YouTube and try to find that news story. Hm. No dice. No problem, you say. I’m internet savvy. I’ll held over to one of the big national news sites that must have covered this. Surely, NBC was on top of it and has it in their archives. No? That’s cool. It’s probably over on CBS. Nope. But you KNOW it was covered. And it wasn’t that long ago. Doesn’t a record of it exist?
This is the question we found ourselves asking as we tried to dig up some old footage for I AM BIG BIRD. Clearly, when we called the Las Vegas TV station where Caroll Spinney had his first show back in the 50s, we weren’t surprised to find their archive didn’t include his work. But when we called New England-based channels seeking news stories from 2005, we came up empty. It turns out that getting news footage isn’t as easy as we thought. So what did we do?
First, we gave up contacting local news stations. Why? Their archives don’t exist for much past 90 days. And oftentimes, they refuse to license clips to be used in docs and will only sell them to outlets like CNN, etc.
Second, we enlisted the help of a broadcast monitoring service, which essentially is a company that monitors and records news broadcasts. Sometimes, they are affiliated with networks or companies, other times, they are completely independent. These services are great, however, they too don’t keep records too far back—they say they just don’t have the space, which makes sense if you consider the never-ending news cycle.
For some reason, the companies we called didn’t offer an online database that we could search. Instead, we had to call them, explain what we were looking for and then wait to hear back. They then took our information and used their internal databases, which rely on transcripts of old broadcasts, and started searching. Two companies returned results, but neither could offer us a preview of the clip. Instead, we relied on transcripts. Interestingly enough, the clips were very similar, but one cost over three times as much. Do your homework before choosing a service; it’ll save you money.
Once we selected and paid for the clips, all of the companies were able to send us digital files. Keep in mind, however, the fee you pay is NOT a license fee—you’re just paying to obtain them for review. Should you decide to use them, you still hold the responsibility for clearing the clips to appear in your film.
To get you started, here are a few broadcast monitoring services we ended up calling: