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Sara Bijani

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May 7, 2016

Announcing the (Soft) Launch of the Finally Got the News Digital Audio Archive

May 7, 2016 | By | No Comments

I feel hesitant to describe this phase of the Finally Got the News audio reel archive as a “launch” of the project, simply because my aspirations for the collaborative and interpretative dimensions of this work won’t be completed until later this summer. The archive itself, however, is in a highly functional and sharable state. Rather than describing the project in full (I’ll save that for a later post this summer), I’ll use this announcement to walk through the functionality of the digital archive, available at: http://newsreeldetroit.matrix.msu.edu/blackstarproductions/.

That link directs to a digital audio repository with a homepage showcasing a randomly selected sample reel. Refreshing this page generates a new reel, rotating through the twenty-four items currently housed in this collection. A full list of the collection is available under the “Browse Audio Collection” tab. The nature of the physical material makes it extremely difficult to assign any sort of hierarchical order to the digital files, as this collection was donated with no clear standard for categorization. The audio reels themselves are often difficult to so much as label, with many of them packaged in blank or erroneously labeled cases. The Newsreel collective used these reels to record multiple audio sessions, for multiple projects, and those labels that do exist are not always reflective of the actual material on the audio tape. Given these problems of translation from the physical to the digital archive, I believe that the best way to present these reels is in a form that approximates their physical shape as closely as possible.

To illustrate the standards as I’ve established them for this digital repository, I will walk through one sample item, available at: http://newsreeldetroit.matrix.msu.edu/blackstarproductions/items/show/10

The thumbnail for this and all other audio reels in the collection is a photograph of the cover of the reel’s packaging box as I received it. The title of the reel (in this case: “Cordell Sync CR 104 Sync 5 MCCC George”) is generated from all writing on the reel box cover and sides. As a result of this titling method, some reels in this repository have extremely short titles, while others are very long.

Clicking to open the item page brings up an embedded version of the OHMS (http://www.oralhistoryonline.org) player, with a transcript of the audio underneath. The transcript is machine searchable, with timecode marks that allow the reader to jump to the matching position in the audio player, allowing for the simultaneous experience of reading and listening to the audio file. This OHMS integration is in place for approximately half of the audio repository at this point, as I am still in the process of completing transcription of these files. For those reels where a transcript does not yet exist, the OHMS interface is hidden, and the item appears as a typical Omeka Dublin Core entry. All gaps in transcription will be corrected this summer.

The Dublin Core fields provide some selected keywords (in the “subject” field) to help users find audio reels that are topically interesting, as well as a brief summary (in the “description” field) of the audio reel. For those occasional reels where the back of the reel box summarized the audio inside, I have copied the description verbatim. For those reels where no summary existed, I have provided very generalized and non-interpretative overviews of the content. For example, I have summarized this reel as “Cordell Sand and others discuss race and student activism at Macomb Community College.” I have used the “source” field to make note of the speed at which the reel was originally recorded (in this case, 7 1/2 IPS), and the “type” field to note the size of the physical audio reel (in this case, 4 inch.)

The files that are listed below the Dublin Core data include thumbnails that link to high resolution PNG images of all sides of the audio reel boxes, as well as a high quality MP3 of the digitized reel. For those items with OHMS integration, the player at the top of the page read this MP3 file and presents it in a far more user friendly format, but users will need this file information to access the audio file directly. At the bottom of the page is an embed code, which generates a preview of the item page that can be dropped into any web content that supports iframe embedding. (See below)

Overall, I have designed this audio repository with the goal of balancing the objectives of public access and archival fidelity. My hope is that the information contained in these audio reels will prove useful for future scholars, as well as anyone interested in the political and cultural history of Detroit in the 1970s. To this end, I look forward to completing the remaining transcription for these reels this summer, but I am even more excited for the more interpretative and narrative portions of the webpage that will be released with a launch of the full scope project in a few months.

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