Hello, and welcome to this tutorial on the basics of Searching Newspapers. In this video, we will cover the following:
• Why use newspapers for research?
And the three things to keep in mind while researching newspapers So, why use newspapers as a research source? Newspapers provide a daily record of events for a specific geographic area. In fact, for some remote or rural areas they provide the only consistent record of events for that area. In any case, newspapers provide an excellent place to find primary source materials. With that in mind, there are three things you need to keep in mind when you search for an event in newspaper databases:
First there is timing, or when the event occurred.
Second, there is scope, or the question of whether the paper in question would have covered the event at all.
Finally, there is slant, or how the paper in question would cover the event if they chose to. To begin with, let’s talk timing.
As a daily record of events for a specific area, newspapers are extremely time sensitive. Newspapers focus on covering events as they occurred, or as close to that event as possible. However, as the Chicago Tribune learned the hard way while covering the Presidential election in 1948, no Newspaper can cover an event before it occurred.
Spoiler alert: Dewey lost. With that in mind, when you’re looking for the newspaper coverage of an event, you’re going to want to remember to look for it after it occurred. How soon after? Well, that depends. When looking for newspaper articles after 1850 or so, news traveled as fast as the telegraph could carry it, so for most major cities you could look for news events within a day or so of their having occurred. Before 1850, news traveled as fast as the fastest horse or ship could carry it. This meant that the reporting of events could be delayed by days, or even weeks depending on how remote the events were that were being reported on. For example, prior to the advent of telegraphy, a letter mailed from London to Sydney, Australia would take 73 days to arrive, so breaking news in Sydney, wouldn’t have been reported in The Times of London until almost two and a half months later! So in order to find your event you need to not only know the exact date when that event occurred, but also how soon after that event you should expect to see it in print. Next, you need to keep in mind the scope of the paper you’re searching. As we noted, newspapers cover events in a specific geographic area. While it’s true that National Papers like the New York Times extensively cover major global and national news stories, they’re not interested in local news outside of their own specific geographic area. For example, the Los Angeles Times, has bureaus around the world and in major American cities to cover big stories, but virtually ignores local news in Pomona, unless of course it’s a huge story that might also get covered by the major national papers, think a major disaster, or an alien invasion or something… So where will you find local coverage? In a local newspaper. While recent history has been hard for local papers, with more of them going out of business each year, in the past almost any town or region had its own paper. n Southern California for example, the San Gabriel Valley has the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pomona has the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Riverside has the Press Enterprise and San Bernardino has the Sun. All of these papers will cover news that might get ignored by the major national papers. So when you’re looking for an event, keep in mind where it happened, and how big an event it was. Events of national or global-level importance will get covered almost everywhere, events of local importance, are only going to get covered by a local paper. Finally, there’s the question of slant. Quick question? What’s the difference between the Washington Post and the Washington Times? Well, they’re both newspapers, and they both cover the Washington D.C. area, but that’s about all they have in common. The Washington Post reports the news from a center-left ideological position, the Washington Times from a right-wing position, as evidenced by these very different headlines on what is roughly the same story. So while both of these papers cover the Congress, the Presidency and government in general, the way they report on things depends somewhat on what party is in power. So when you search for an event in a newspaper, keep in mind that paper’s editorial slant, the bias of the publishers may directly affect how the news is reported, and thus how the event is recorded. As daily records of events in specific geographic areas, Newspapers provide us with priceless primary source materials. However, as these sources are time sensitive, geographically focused and subject to editorial bias it is important to keep the following criteria in mind when searching newspaper databases: • First, when the event occurred, and how soon it would be covered by the newspapers • Second, would the magnitude of the event in question cause it to be covered by national papers, or would it be limited in scope to local coverage? Finally, how does the editorial slant, or ideological biases of those publishing the paper affect how the event in question is covered? Thank you for watching. If you have questions about newspaper research or research in general, please feel free to contact us at the Research Help Desk, you can also call us at (909) 869-3084, or you can email us at [email protected]