Research at the RBML | A. Brad Schwartz on Ed Murrow and Fred Friendly

Historian Brad Schwartz recently visited the RBML as part of his research on legendary broadcaster Edward Murrow. Currently a graduate student at Princeton, Brad delved into the RBML’s rich journalism collections and oral histories of journalists. Below he describes how his visit to the RBML fits into his ongoing project, Newsman: Edward R. Murrow and the Invention of Truth.


What brings you to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library? 

I visited the Rare Book & Manuscript Library primarily to explore its journalism history collections, as well as the wealth of oral history material dealing with the mass media. One of the main characters in the story I’m trying to tell, Fred W. Friendly, taught at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism for several years, so it’s fitting that the bulk of his personal archive ended up at the university. That collection served as the primary, though by no means only, reason for my visit.

My first visit to the RMBL was about a decade ago, when I was working on turning my undergraduate thesis project into what became my first book: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News. That gave me my first experience with the media history collections at Columbia, and after a gap of far too many years, I was glad to return!

What have you found? Did you come here knowing this material was here?

I had gone through the online finding aids before my visit and had more than a general idea of what I might find, but there is no substitute for actually opening the folders and seeing what they contain. Sticking with the Friendly papers as an example, I expected to find transcripts of the television broadcasts he co-produced with Edward R. Murrow, the primary subject of my research, and correspondence relating to the same, but the amount of actual production documents from their various collaborations surprised (and delighted) me.

The best moments in doing this sort of research are when you find something you didn’t expect, and that often happens when you look into something either as a total shot in the dark or, in this case, when you request the wrong box. I visited the RBML primarily interested in the famous TV series Murrow and Friendly co-produced, See It Now, but through my own carelessness I asked for and received a box containing material on one of their earlier collaborations, a series of record albums with a similar title, I Can Hear It Now. Deciding I might as well make use of what was in front of me, I went through the box and found a memo from Murrow to Friendly, where he lays out his ideas for writing the liner notes (which he called a “foreword”) to one of these albums. (This document is titled “about the foreword,” in box 167, “CBS Recordings- I Can Hear It Now 1933-1945 – Script Drafts” folder, of the Friendly Papers [MS# 1417]). In describing his approach to the album, Murrow outlined some aspects of his reporting philosophy that I’d never seen him articulate elsewhere, and that changed how I thought about how he and Friendly approached bringing their partnership to the screen. So requesting the wrong box turned out to be the happiest of accidents!

What advice do you have for other researchers or students interested in using RBML’s special collections?

The first advice I would give future researchers would be to make extensive use of the online finding aids, which in my experience have been very detailed and of great help in winnowing down the library’s vast collections into what is most directly relevant to my project. On a purely practical level, especially for researchers coming in from out of town, the 1 train is a nice, direct way to get to Columbia’s campus. Coming in from Princeton, I was initially unsure I’d be able to easily make it that far uptown from Penn Station, but the 1 (almost) never let me down, with one weather-related exception. And finally, as is true with all archival research, always be open to being surprised. You never know what you might find in a folder that doesn’t seem relevant, or even in a box you didn’t mean to request, so take a look if time allows.