The Public Eye Chat With...Daniel DiPierro

It's Thursday, and that means it's time for the Public Eye Chat. This week's subject is CBS News Executive Director of Information Resources Daniel DiPierro, who, among other duties, oversees the CBS News archives. He is pictured with a recording of the 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds."

Brian Montopoli: Is there any crown jewel in the archives? Is there one thing that's the most exciting, interesting thing you guys have?

Daniel DiPierro: What we're finding that's extremely interesting is that in the older collections – we're going through a lot of the radio news archives – and in there we have, you know, Murrow reporting from the rooftops of London, some old FDR on his yacht…In the video collection, we have everything since CBS News has been on the air. So it's sort of the history of the 20th century.

Brian Montopoli: And this is everything? Every single "Evening News?" Every single "60 Minutes?" Everything?

Daniel DiPierro: It's everything, including the [outtakes]. This is the biggest broadcast news archive in the world – maybe second to the BBC.

Brian Montopoli: My understanding is that the archives is used for CBS broadcasts, but also people from outside request stuff, and you charge them for using the old CBS tape. What sorts of things are people interested in?

Daniel DiPierro: Depends on who the client is – there's a bunch of different requests that come. If Spike Lee is doing "Malcolm X," we would get a request for some of the original speeches, and we would also try to sell them some period time pieces. Wee get a lot of documentarians that come in here looking for material.

Brian Montopoli: Is there anything like this at ABC, NBC, CNN?

Daniel DiPierro: All the networks have looked at ways of repurposing…it's a very tricky business when you're licensing news material and you want to preserve the image. You don't want somebody picking stuff up from the network, with our anchors, and doing a documentary that's basically a spoof on the subject. And taking everything that they're saying out of context.

Brian Montopoli: Do you have any approval over what they use?

Daniel DiPierro: We have final approval. We have editorial approval over every clip that we give them…sometimes we'll ask how a clip is going to be used and we won't approve the usage. With a generic clip, it's not necessarily an issue. Where we really exert our authority is when it's CBS talent, or CBS branded with the logo. Which typically we never license. But if we do, we want to know how it's going to be used.

Brian Montopoli: Can you describe for people what the archives looks like and what facility you guys are using?

Daniel DiPierro: Sure. We've repatriated a lot of our collections over the years from dispersed warehouses throughout the city. And on west 57th street in Manhattan we have two floors, 60,000 square feet, one of the biggest cold vaults in Manhattan. And we have moveable shelving and a certain amount of fixed shelving that sits there across the street.

Brian Montopoli: So it's sort of like a library for tapes?

Daniel DiPierro: Absolutely: A library for tapes.

Brian Montopoli: Has there been any discussion of digitizing everything that you guys have in the archive?

Daniel DiPierro: Absolutely. We're in the process of a number of different discussions right now, some of which I'm not at liberty to speak about.

Brian Montopoli: Can you talk a little bit about the origins of the archives? Even the concept? Because there was a period when it wasn't standard practice to do this kind of thing.

Daniel DiPierro: That's a little bit of an interesting story, and I'm not sure that I have it all correct myself, because the archives predates me by quite a number of years. Even in the earliest days, with Paley and Stanton, they were keeping tape here. And some of our older employees were storing tape and keeping tape, rather than just degaussing tape and reusing it. That practice started in radio and then rolled over into video.

Brian Montopoli: And what time period was this?

Daniel DiPierro: In radio, it's obviously during the war, so sometime in the '40s. I think the earliest thing we have from radio might be from '33…and then the video obviously was sometime in the early '50s. And that's one of the reasons why we have the biggest broadcast archive.

Stanton actually did hire an archivist. We had an archivist here whose job was to build the archive – to save stuff, to cull the collections, to go through it. To make editorial decisions about what should be saved and preserved and how. And there's a whole science behind archiving with tape and particular formats. Should a tape be on a shelf vertically or horizontally? Which is the best way to store it? People argue about this for days, years. There are discussion groups and things of that nature. It's actually fascinating.