A Woman Single-Handedly Recorded 40,000 VHS News Tapes
Everyone has their hobbies. Some people will collect sports trading cards in the hopes of one day cashing in and retiring somewhere in Florida probably. Others will sit for months on end and document how many times a character wears a green shirt in their favorite TV show. Not everyone does things for money, is what we're saying. As was the case with Marion Stokes, a former librarian, one-time TV producer, and social activist who decided that since no one else was doing it: she would make it her life's goal to record as much cable news as she possibly could in the name of archiving. On VHS and Betamax. Which, if you didn't know, was a real butt cramp of a process.
For more than 30 years, Marion Stokes taped both local and national news around the clock 24/7 on as many as eight VCRs at a time. She would plan her entire life around making sure she or a family member would be home when a 6-hour tape needed to be replaced with a fresh one. Stokes' feverish obsession with recording all the news and find discrepancies between broadcasts took off in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis and ended on December 14, 2012, the day she passed away — the same day the Sandy Hook massacre took place. Quite a somber moment when you realize that someone who had dedicated the last three decades of her life to the preservation of media reports in the hopes of combating fake news died on the day of a major event that would lead to an entire brand of fake news and conspiracy theories.
It was initially claimed that she recorded more than 140,000 tapes but, after the Internet Archive received the boatload of cassettes, they calculated that it was actually closer to 40,000 tapes of news archives. Still an impressive number and slightly less of a headache for those who now need to digitize them.
This might sound like an odd way to spend your life – and perhaps a bit sad when you learn that the wealthy Stokes and her husband ultimately became shut-ins due to their dedication to her cause – but archivists today see this commitment as heroic. Back in the day, no one even knew that television networks weren't being so great at preserving their archives. Many threw their shows in the trash, and a great amount of footage has been lost because of such negligence. Stokes saw it happen, saw that no one really gave a shit what they said or did because it'll simply be thrown out and forgotten come the next morning's news cycle. But not if she could help it.
While early broadcast news might be tricky to find today, her recordings are being digitized as we speak and could hopefully make it easier for researchers to discover just how bonkers the advent of the 24-hour news cycle really was.
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