Tying past events to today’s stories

By Jenny Hammerton

Compelling news from the past can add a historical perspective and context for breaking news today.

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We were there, collecting footage that is now in our archives, one of the most comprehensive collections of the events and people who have shaped the modern era.

“The Berlin Wall. Brooding, cold and gray, it was an ugly, intimidating structure, symbolizing the East-West divide, not only in Berlin, or Germany, or even Europe, but the world.” — George Jahn, AP correspondent

Veterans Day occurs Wednesday, one more occasion documented in our million minutes of archived video on YouTube that were uploaded in July. For the first time, the public can enjoy some of the oldest and most remarkable moments in history. There are two channels, one for AP footage and another for our partner, British Movietone. On Facebook and Twitter, we’ve shared clips each day commemorating anniversaries of events big and small, serious and not-as-serious.

Opening the content up for public viewing has been a fascinating process. Both channels are fully searchable and material relating to the Titanic and Hindenburg disasters has been in our top 10 in views since launch day. A surprising clip that has gone viral is a film of Binky, a polar bear in Alaska who took a healthy chomp on the leg of a tourist who got too close to his cage in 1994.

When big stories break, such as the terrible Hajj stampede this year in Saudi Arabia, we see a spike in views for archived material around similar subjects. Compelling news, even from previous years, draws interest when resurfaced in connection with current events.

Part of my role in managing the channels involves creating new playlists regularly. This is a quick and easy way to respond to current news events, as well as being helpful for pointing users to extra material so they can delve deeper into our collections.

If there is a big news anniversary coming up — for example, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the recent Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries — I can group related material together on the YouTube channels to guide users through the content. Our most popular playlist on the AP Archive YouTube channel is currently the “Iconic Moments in History” playlist. On the Movietone channel, the “Momentous Events, Disasters and Tragedies” playlist has had the most views.

Each week, I present a weekly spot called “The Archivist Presents,” where I share particular treasures from the British Movietone collection. I have so many favourite pieces of footage, including a film of British band The Kinks with their hair in curlers, and rare colour footage of 1930s rubber bathing suits! I also love the AP Entertainment interview with Amy Winehouse from 2004, the iconic footage of the “tank man” in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and — coincidentally, considering the anniversary — the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989.

Jenny Hammerton

Jenny is an account manager based in London with The Associated Press.

video, archive, insights