Forty years ago today, C-SPAN started live coverage of House floor proceedings. At NYT, Julia Jacobs interviews co-CEO Susan Swain:
The fact that people could actually see their elected representatives in their living room — and now on their phones — was a fundamental change. In the past, people might pull the lever every two years for their member of Congress and, if they were super engaged, might read a newsletter that came in the mail or go to an occasional town hall meeting.
This meant that any time you were interested, you could watch what your member of Congress had to say. Prior to television in Congress, the only time that members really got attention is if they had big names like Kennedy or if they did something outrageous, either positively or negatively, or if they were a member of the leadership.
C-Span’s relevance comes in the form of not only all of the events that we cover every day but within minutes after we televise them, they are digitized and stored on our video archives. It has 250,000 hours of political video that we’ve covered since 1987.
That means a member of Congress can pull a clip from their hearing and send it out to constituents. It also means that people on social media or late-night comedians have immediate access to this.
I think most people who are in their 20s or younger, if they have an experience with C-Span it is through social media, it is through the late-night comedians. The creation of our video library in 1987 was every bit as significant as the original creation of C-Span.