Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Fedflix Popularizes Uncle Sam’s Video Collection

• September 30, 2010 • 12:13 PM

Even with rocket ships and cuddly critters on the screen no one comes to federal movie night. But a privately run effort is flicking open the door to the movie trove.

Carl Malamud has for years been trying to show the government how to do what the government should be doing itself. His nonprofit, Public.Resource.org, has slowly been archiving into the digital domain public resources long inaccessible to the public — SEC filings, court documents, copies of federal regulations. Last week, Google awarded Public.Resource a $2 million grant to build out its latest endeavor, Law.Gov, which aims to put online the country’s primary legal documents for all to see.

But the organization has also methodically been working its way through some livelier fare: video footage from the vast government archives. Malamud cheekily calls that project in government theater, “Fedflix,” a Netflix for the national government. No late fees apply!

His success — and the public’s interest: the YouTube channel where he posts this stuff has gotten 4 million hits — has caught the White House’s attention. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin announced this month that he’s hoping to launch a video.gov platform modeled after Malamud’s.

“Everything we do, that’s our aim,” Malamud said of enticing the government to take over his ideas. “This nonprofit was explicitly started with a goal of getting government to do things in a more fruitful manner. Whenever we do something, it’s with the intent to get government to do it, too.”

Malamud has been working with the National Technical Information Service and several other agencies to unearth the old videos. They send him cassettes and DVDs. He digitizes them at no expense to the government, sends the originals back and uploads the online versions to YouTube and Internet Archive. Public.Resource also has a half-dozen volunteers — the International Amateur Scanning League — digitizing videos at the National Archives and Records Administration reading room in Washington.
[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class] Until now, the government hasn’t been very good at doing this itself. Fedflix has garnered more traffic than all 13 Smithsonian YouTube channels combined.

“They have the space shuttle and pandas, and they still can’t get more views than we do,” Malamud said. “It’s shocking that government doesn’t have a higher profile with all this wonderful content. With pandas, if you can’t get a hundred million views on YouTube, you’re not trying.”

So what exactly is in all this wonderful content — and who are the 4 million people surfing it on the web?

Well, there are a lot of firefighter training videos from the Bureau of Land Management. There are Federal Aviation Administration safety lectures on surviving an emergency landing. There’s a JFK interview and silent footage from a Civil Rights-era march from Selma to Montgomery.

Most of these videos were made (or funded) by the government, whether for educational or occupational purposes, for posterity or propaganda. They’re either still relevant today (thus, Malamud suspects, the many people who have been watching the Federal Highway Administration channel). But others are simply charming.

“I love a little song about silence, which is on the Mine Health and Safety Administration playlist,” Malamud said, referring to this multitalented noise inspector from Montana, who starts singing (at 3:30) about protecting your ears:

[class name="dont_print_this"][/class]

Among the 4,000 other videos, there’s also this 1943 Disney animation about “Public Enemy No. 1: Anopheles, the Malaria Mosquito.” Wanted, for willful spreading of disease, and theft of working hours!

[class name="dont_print_this"][/class]

“I also like the collections,” Malamud said. “The Federal Judicial Center is interesting. They have several hundred fairly boring videos, things about antitrust jurisdiction, but they were unavailable to anybody except judges, and people who worked in the judiciary. So there was a large community of lawyers that was grateful to see those come up.”

We’ll end, instead, with a World War II Army recruiting clip, now available royalty-free to aspiring documentarians, or just anyone looking to wind down the clock at work:

[class name="dont_print_this"][/class]

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


Follow us


That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.