Newspapers provide first-hand accounts of current events in their news reports and, in editorials and opinion pieces, they present diverse points-of-view on controversial issues. First-hand accounts--descriptions of events by people with direct experience of those events-- or any other information in its original form are considered primary sources. Aside from news reports, other examples of primary sources include diaries, letters, interviews, original artwork, statistical data that has not been analyzed and the first report of a research study in a scientific journal. Any information that is a retelling, interpretation, analysis of a primary source--that is, it's something new that is based on reading or hearing a primary source--is termed secondary material. In newspapers, articles that analyze current issues or trends or reviews of arts and entertainment are secondary material.

Current and recent newspapers are excellent sources for topics that deal with current issues and newspapers from previous time periods are excellent sources for historical topics.

Newspaper Indexes & Databases

To find newspaper articles on specific topics, we can use newspaper databases. Just like magazine and journal databases, newspaper databases index newspaper articles by subject and also provide keyword searching. Newspaper databases may include abstracts and full-text databases of single newspapers or they can include abstracts and full-text articles for a selection of several, or even dozens of, different newspapers. Most major, regional and specialized newspapers have Web sites that include some form of full-text database. Newspapers' web sites commonly make at least some, if not all, of the articles in an issues available for free the same day they are published in print. These newspaper websites do not, however, usually provide a complete database of all articles in back issues going back very far in time. In most cases, access is free, but the time availability--how far back in time issues are accessible--varies from just a few weeks to several years. Many newspapers on the Web (such as the San Jose Mercury News, New York Times and the Los Angeles Times) are now charging for accessing the full-text of articles. The San Francisco Chronicle's website, SF Gate, does not charge for accessing the full-text of articles. A few of the major newspaper sites are:

Many other newspapers that are available on the Web can be found listed on one of various Web directories of newspapers, including:

"Premium" Newspaper Databases

To be able to do comprehensive searching of back issues of newspapers, you usually need to use a "premium" (proprietary) database that are commonly subscribed to by libraries and schools and are also available from commercial online services. Some of the same companies that produce premium magazine and journal databases also produce newspaper databases that often include complete full-text coverage of several major newspapers going back at least several years in time. Skyline Library subscribes to several newspaper databases. The InfoTrac Newspapers database includes the full-text of the N.Y. Times, S.F. Chronicle, S.F. Examiner, San Jose Mercury News, L.A. Times, Contra Costa Times, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Times (London, England), Guardian (London, England), Manila Bulletin (Philippines), Korea Times, International Herald Tribune, La Opinión going back a number of years. The Ethnic Newswatch database is a unique newspaper database that includes the full-text of a couple hundred newspapers from ethnic communities from cities around the country.

New York Times Archive Index Provides Historical Coverage

To look up articles in newspapers from before the mid-to-late1990's, libraries often carry newspaper databases for some major papers going back to the 1980's and occasionally a little earlier. Up until very recently, to find newspaper articles from before these electronic databases were available, print indexes had to be used and then the actual articles could be found on microform (microfilm or microfiche). The New York Times Index (published by the New York Times) is by far the most popular print newspaper index in the U.S. It indexes the New York Times-- generally considered the country's most important and comprehensive newspaper-- back to 1851, and many libraries (including Skyline) carry the text of the paper on microform back to the same year. The N.Y. Times Archive Index (1851- 1995) is now available on the Internet. Searching, citations and first paragraphs are free, but full-text costs $2.95 per article. Full-text of articles, however, are also available at Skyline Library on microfilm for 15 cents per page or, if you have a San Francisco Public Library card, you can freely access the Historical N.Y. Times, which includes the full-text of articles from 1851 - 2001. For historical research, the Historical N.Y. Times or the N.Y. Times Archive Index are invaluable sources since they covers virtually all major news events back to before the Civil War. Indexes for most other major newspapers usually don't go back much before the1960's, at the earliest.

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last revised: 10-2-04 by Eric Brenner, Skyline College, San Bruno, CA

These materials may be used for educational purposes if you inform and credit the author and cite the source as: LSCI 106 Online Research. All commercial rights are reserved. To contact the author, send comments or suggestions to: Eric Brenner at