British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

UPITN’s Operation in the 1970s

The UPITN television news agency operated on a global level in the 1970s. Cameramen, most of them on a freelance contract, were stationed in UPI bureaus dotted all around the world. 16mm film cameras were used for newsgathering as the compact equipment allowed for mobility and the footage was of sufficient quality for the television screen.

In the 1970s satellites were too expensive to move stories around; the physical films had to be shipped by plane/ship/train/etc. When a story was shot, it would be sent for processing to either the London or the New York UPITN headquarters. Stories from Europe, Africa, Middle East and some parts of Asia would go to London and stories from North and South America and parts of Asia would go to New York for processing.

The London and New York UPITN headquarters then exchanged stories between themselves which they thought were relevant to each others’ clients – they would not supply the other bureaus’ clients directly. It was common for a story to arrive in London or New York some days after it had been shot – depending on how far the film had to travel. The editor of day looked at the film and decided whether to select the story for syndication or not. On busy days, less important stories would be deferred for syndication to the following day.

Films not deemed important enough to be syndicated at all were sent off for storage to the film library. Stories selected for syndication were loosely edited (average running time of 1-2 mins), duplicated and sent to clients. Subscribing station received a selection of 10 – 12 stories each day with an accompanying shotlist. The shotlist contained contextual information about the story and a shot by shot description as well as technical details.  The decision what client to supply with what stories was made by the editor of the day and based on an understanding of the client’s needs.

Upon receiving the films, television stations made a further selection of what stories to include in their newscast. As films were very rarely supplied with a commentary or a reporter in view, the tv stations commented over the films based on the information received on the shotlist.

By Zuzana Zabkova