Jack Kenny is surprised to find American television can be enthralling. Sometimes a CD-Rom is not what you expect at all. We have grown used to newspapers on CD, but what about television news on CD? Here it is, all in transcript, not just TV news but current affairs shows, show-biz trivia, even phone-ins, inconsequential babble being given the status of immortality. All this was never meant to be read. Stuff that is meant to be read is considered, polished, revised, edited . . . isn't it?
There's a great deal to admire in America, but not much on American television. The sheer volume, and the undiluted inanity of much of it, makes looking for the few interesting programmes exhausting. There are some, though, where issues are treated with high seriousness and a sense of freedom. Here you have it, the edited highlights of: CNN, ABC, PBS, National Public Radio. You can read Larry King Live, Both Sides with Jesse Jackson, Washington Week in Review and many, many others.
One thing you do not have to worry about is the reading level. The oral nature of the texts means that instant communication is aimed for, with corresponding simplicity. Although it is strange to actually read those TV cliches put into print. "This has been Sharon Hoyle in Washington, for ABC, returning you to the studio."
I started out disliking the disc and ended up by finding it enthralling. The way that narrative drive is injected into some of the material is fascinating and no doubt accounts for the grip that American TV holds on world-wide audiences. You soon realise that transcripts are more useful than video tape you can find things in seconds. The ability to search on issues is particularly valuable, such as endangered species, Aids, rape, cults, women's rights and so on.
You can also find some very powerful and moving material. In a section on capital punishment, Justice Harry Blackmun of the US Supreme Court is interviewed and agonises about a reprieve for a killer and the legality of the punishment. You can follow his line of reason as he describes what it is like to condemn a human being to death. In the same section a reporter describes clearly and bleakly what it is like to watch a hanging. Then straight in to the sign-off and a jarring gear change. "Tomorrow night, on 2020, Barbara Walters interviews the other Barbra, Barbra Streisand. That's on 2020 tomorrow night." It's all there!
Is this an essential purchase? It might be if you are looking to stimulate discussions, if you are involved in American studies, media studies, if you want to look at the difference between TV news and written news, if you are interested in analysing different texts, if you want to give students some additional perspectives. There is nothing quite like this and it is worth looking at.
The producers claim that this will run on a 286. I ran it sweetly on a 486; the files took up 2 megabytes on the hard disc. The search software (it doesn't run through Windows) is sharp. You can search by network, by issues, through subjects and through the full text. It is intuitive, fast, accurate and the way that you can build searches is easy.
The economics too are very interesting. There are special prices for schools, but the main price for the business world is Pounds 995 for the 1994 disc!
This is Jack Kenny for The Times Educational Supplement returning you to reality.
The disc is available to schools on subscription of Pounds 225 for 1994 (updates quarterly); 1993 complete Pounds 245; 1992 complete Pounds 245. Tel: 0734 583247.