LIS1001: Resource Types

What is a Newspaper?

A newspaper is a regularly published collection of articles that intends to inform the audience of current events of interest to a broad readership. Most newspapers are published daily, although some may be published weekly.  Some newspapers are considered local papers intended to be read by people in a certain location, and some are more regional, national or international in audience.  Examples include: The Florida Times Union, The Miami Herald, The New York Times, The Times (London), and many more.  

General Characteristics

  • focused on current events, both local and national
  • cover a wide variety of topics- political, social, educational, crime, human interest, etc…
  • are written in plain language
  • authored by staff writers and columnists
  • will include quotes from affected parties and bystanders
  • include several local advertisements
  • articles are very short in length
  • pictures feature prominently

-- The aim of most news articles is to answer six questions about the happenings about which they report:

Who What When Where Why How

When to Use Newspaper Articles

While newspaper articles are not typically the first choices for inclusion in academic research papers for their analytical content, they do provide first‐hand accounts of events that have historical significance and are excellent examples of primary sources.

Of course, articles from newspapers might also serve other purposes in academic research. One prime example would be as support for a paper analyzing editorial styles of various national newspapers or news syndicates. A researcher might also be able to assess the leaning of the newspaper by reading the editorial page. Is the paper conservative? Is the paper liberal? Or is the paper more middle‐of‐the‐road? Having a sense of the inclination of the paper's editorial staff might be useful in assessing how a particular situation is analyzed in an editorial. A researcher relying on editorial commentary on a particular situation would want to be aware of any inherent bias in the commentary as a means for gauging the accuracy of the allegations made in the editorial.

Some examples of research that might easily depend on articles from newspapers include:

  • Contemporary reporting of the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961.
  • Contemporary accounts of the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor in 1898.
  • The capture and killing of Libya's Gadhafi in October 2011.
  • Public sentiment toward the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States.
  • Conservative and liberal analyses of NATO's intervention in Bosnia in 1995.
  • Changes in cigarette advertisements in national newspapers of the United States from the early 1900s up to today.
  • Excerpts of Lincoln's November 19, 1863, Gettysburg address published at the time of its delivery with editorial commentary of the time.

There are many other potential topics for which newspaper articles can serve as valuable sources and certainly scientific and technological breakthroughs will be reported in newspapers. Of more importance to a researcher keeping track of advances in science and technology would be announcements of where the breakthroughs were made and by whom. Finding the scientific literature surrounding the breakthrough would be the next step for the academic researcher.

Assessing the Potential Value of a Newspaper Article: What To Look For?

While there are many things to consider when assessing the value of a newspaper article, some primary considerations include:

Location ‐‐ The majority of newspapers are written for people who live in a specific location and would provide coverage of national and international events, plus also those of more local and regional interest.  Some newspapers however are intended to be read by people internationally.  For example, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are read by many more than just people who live in those metropolitan areas and the articles will reflect the national sentiment more than local interest. 

Audience ‐‐ To whom is the article targeted? Is the article written as an item of general interest? Is the article targeted toward a specific ethnic group or gender? Is the article intended for a particular age group? Is the article written with a particular political leaning in mind? Understanding something of the intended audience will help a researcher determine if the article is appropriate.

Authorship ‐‐ Most newspaper articles are written by staff writers and columnists who work for the newspaper. Some articles might be contributed by other writers not directly employed by the newspaper. Editorial and analytical pieces included in a newspaper will likely be contributed by one or more of the editorial staff of the newspaper. While not all newspaper articles provide "bylines," many do. And while an author's qualifications and background might not be specifically listed at the beginning of the article, a researcher can easily check to see what other articles the author has written by scanning a library database. Knowing more about the author will help the researcher understand more about the article under consideration.

Article date ‐‐ Is the article's date of concern? This might seem obvious, but since most articles will be gathered from library databases which might or might not organize materials according to date it will be crucial for the researcher to make sure that the articles are clearly within the appropriate time period.