Beyond the Printed Word: The Evolution of Canada's Broadcast News Heritage

Richard Lochead

Beyond the Printed Word is a first-rate record of a 1988 symposium co-hosted by the National Archives of Canada and the Association for the Study of Canadian Radio and Television. Editor Lochead merits commendation for compiling this document of a somewhat complex three-day program of panels, discussions, papers, research reports, and reminiscences. While the edition is not a complete or verbatim report of the symposium, it does offer the reader a sense of the purposefulness of it. Contributing to the incompleteness of the document were several symposium presentations characterized by intricate audio-visual components which did not lend themselves to reproduction in the print format of a book. As well, other papers, the editor points out, had been committed earlier to other journals.

The editor is an archivist with the National Archives of Canada who also served as chairperson for the symposium that was scheduled as part of the national archives exhibition Beyond the Printed Word. . . Newsreel and Broadcast Reporting in Canada, 1897-1987 which opened at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa in 1988. Symposium participants included media practitioners, scholars, and archivists who, as a group, were encouraged by Lochead to continue the exploration of the impact of film and broadcast news on Canadian society as it (film and broadcast news) "becomes the increasingly dominant medium of record for the twentieth century" (p. 397).

But it is Jean-Pierre Wallott, the National Archivist for Canada, who offers (in his welcoming address to the participants) even greater emphasis to the increasing importance of audio-visual materials in the matter of recording our lore; and he offers the symposium a focal point with his comments:

I believe that it is also the role of the archives, on occasions such as this one, to bring the creators and the users of the records in question into contact with the archivists who have custody of them, in order to provide a better description of these records for future generations.

The task of the archives in this area is difficult, but vital, since the substance of record conservation for the end of this century and the beginning of the next will be inexorably changing from printed matter to audio-visual materials (p. 5).

Thus, in intent, the symposium and this edition are records of how the form and content of information are being altered by media technologies and the significance of these changes for Canadian society ("broadcasting should provide a cultural highway of self expression" for Canadians, insisted one symposium participant [p. 259]).

Not all readers are likely to agree that the book fulfils this intent uniformly or with consistency, because discussions occasionally become somewhat rambling as in the instance of quibbling between scholars and practitioners about each other's sensitivities to criticism. Yet, even such seeming off-topic commentary might be appropriate to the book since such disagreements between participants might very well be an accurate comment on the state-of-the-art of the emphases being offered to the relative importance of printed matter and audio-visual materials in a social and cultural context.

Apart from recording the content of forum discussions which characterized the symposium, the book offers commentaries and reports on many and diverse program topics which relate to the evolution of Canada's broadcasting heritage: Research to Date; Archiving the Broadcast News Report; Reminiscences and Recollections; Analyzing the Broadcast News Report; The CBC Experience; Nation Building and Canadian Identity; Aboriginal People and Visible Minorities; Politics and Media; An International Perspective. And it is possible to refer to several that may be marked for their excellence in terms of discussing the evolutionary changes that have occurred and are occurring concerning our broadcasting media and their impact on society. One, however, stands out for this reviewer because it is representative of what the book achieves in the end--the raising of important questions concerning our heritage and archival preservation of materials.

When he served as Director of the Archives Branch of the Public Archives of Canada in the 1970s, Hugh Taylor was responsible for the establishment of the National Film, Television, and Sound Archives. In his symposium paper entitled, "News Documents as Valid Historical Evidence," Taylor articulates the questions that arise in the reader's mind from the outset of the book to its end--the complex problem of selection and preservation of audio-visual materials in archives: "... are we recording audio-visual records as though they were textual? Are we saving them for their linear content in whole series of broadcasts in the classical historical tradition? Or is this preservation a monstrous exercise in redundancy since the broadcasting process and the mirror image of ourselves change so little over short periods?" (p. 93).

The publication, as a unit, raises many questions for readers in the manner that does Hugh Taylor, and this is the essential value and strength of the volume. There are no quick or ready answers to these questions and the book does not offer any. But the recording in one volume of the evolution of an increasingly important technological process offers practitioners, archivists, and scholars an appropriate beginning in a search for answers. It is clear that there is research occurring in the area; after reading Beyond the Printed Word, however, it is clear that there is not enough.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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