Watch Old PBS NewsHour Episodes on Your TV

Who remembers the good old days of coming home from a long day and watching the evening news on TV in your family living room? I certainly do. It seems that these days, we have less time than we used to. Commute home, walk the dog, cook dinner, etc., etc. Plus, we’re constantly fed by news sources throughout the day through notifications, social media, and the radio, so we’re often caught up by the evening anyway.

Since 2016, with funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) has been digitizing every episode of PBS NewsHour and its predecessor series for long-term preservation at the Library of Congress and public, online access via the AAPB website at http://americanarchive.org. We are nearing completion of the project, and every found episode from October 1975 – October 2018 will be available in the next few months, including the more than 13,500 episodes that are already online. To access the collection and for more information, visit http://americanarchive.org/special_collections/newshour.

The PBS NewsHour collection is an incredible source for exploring the important issues covered by the news media during the latter half of the 20th century and first decades of the 21st. Covering national and worldwide news and public affairs, the programs are a historical record of American society and politics and the debates surrounding them. The collection includes extensive coverage of elections, health care, poverty, technology, immigration, the Cold War, terrorism, the economy, the environment, energy issues, religion, education, scientific exploration, and human rights.

But at the time of each episode’s broadcast, it was simply the news. People watched because they were living through the issues and events covered each evening. They watched to become more aware of what was happening in the country and the world, to become more informed of the policies, legislation, leaders, and events that were impacting and shaping their everyday lives.

After each broadcast, the tapes on which the episodes were recorded were stored away, in boxes and on shelves. They sat there for years, and over that period of time their value evolved from contemporary news and analysis to historic records documenting a period in American society. Watching these programs on the AAPB website provides researchers, educators, students, and lifelong learners with valuable primary source material not available elsewhere. Historians can access the collection to study important issues, people, events, perspectives and opinions of the 20th and 21st centuries.

A few weeks ago, I came home from a long day at work. I walked the dog, cooked dinner, etc., etc. But for some reason that night I longed for the good old days of watching the evening news on TV in my family living room. I wondered – what would it be like to watch old episodes of The Robert MacNeil Report on my TV? How might the experience differ from watching it on my MacBook in my office at WGBH?

Unfortunately, I was not able to fully recreate the experience, as my smart TV certainly does not exude the same nostalgic or visual effect as the old cathode ray tube displays, but… Because I have a smart TV, I was able to navigate to the NewsHour collection on the AAPB website through an internet browser and watch a few episodes.

The experiment was well worth it. While watching these now historic episodes on my television that evening, I was able to experience the programs in the way that they were originally consumed by the public, much more so than while sitting at my desk. While in the comfort of my own home, sitting on my own couch, dog’s head resting in my lap, appeasing spouse next to me, I imagined myself watching with the same purpose as my parents and millions of others across the country did years ago.

Yes, my holiday decorations were still up. Don’t judge.

While watching, I considered the context surrounding some of the issues that were discussed. Who was president at the time? What was the economic situation? At what point were we in the Cold War? What other significant events happened around that time? The exercise was particularly fun/interesting while watching the 30 minute episode on “The Great Potato Chip War.” At one point during a program, I had to step away from the living room. I didn’t pause the recording; I let it keep playing. The sound of Robert MacNeil’s quintessential news anchor voice drifted through my apartment. This record of history became the news again.

I now invite you to travel watch old NewsHour episodes on your home television. Perhaps it will add a new perspective to your research. Maybe it will make your school homework less dull or spark conversations with family members who lived through the events recorded in the series. Or like me, it might just provide a nostalgic experience you’ve been longing for. 

To access the collection on your television, you can either use your smart TV browser function, or you can use an HDMI cable to mirror your laptop. Once connected, navigate to http://americanarchive.org. Then, scroll down to the Special Collections section of the homepage. You can use the rotating gallery to find the NewsHour special collection, or click “View All Special Collections” and locate the collection from the special collections index page. When you get to the PBS NewsHour Collection page, either conduct a search for a topic of interest, or just click “View the Collection.” The collection is sorted by year from oldest to most recent. Find an episode that you want to watch, click to view it, expand the player to full screen, and enjoy!  

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