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Advantages and problems of using newspapers as historical evidence



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    Advantages and problems of using newspapers
    As historical evidence

    1.                  Introduction

    Before computerization era becomes mandatory at business, employees used to enter, and maintain information in books that they had to open them repeatedly in order to obtain the required information and perform any calculations. Such repeated tasks are therefore prone to human errors since employees sometimes perform any miscalculation.

    Given the importance of computerized system in business, it is not surprising that business of any types was among the earliest adopter of automated information processing technology. Under such circumstances, the use of computers in business has growing over years since they are capable of handling multiple tasks like storing, maintaining, and retrieving huge amounts of information and making calculations and designs at highest accuracy.

    The situation suggests that information system helps businesses to manage their resources. The so-called management information system (MIS), therefore, helps the business to save time and increase efficiency in retrieving information that stored in a system for many years or decades.

    In addition, history is a part of human existence. It is by learning from history can humans now make difficult decisions for their future. Knowledge that we gained from present researches and findings will be history of the future. Sensible nations of the world, from the ancient Persians until the modern Americans hold their history with the highest regards (‘Accountability’, 2000). Historians, use wide variety of evidences to establish interpretations about the past. These historical evidences may come in variety of forms such as documents, buildings historic landmarks, etc. The most regarded historical evidences without a doubt, are documents like diaries, letters, transcripts, conversations, interviews or memoirs. Most of the valuable and detail information from our history books are gathered from preserved documents of the past. In this paper however, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using newspapers as historical evidence.

    In addition to retrieving information in a corporate website, an organization or individual can also browse for information through newspaper in form of hardcopy or online. However, relying the information of historical evidence on newspapers present both advantages and problems. For this reason, this paper will discuss about the benefits and limitation that newspapers have regarding the historical information.

    2.                  Advantages of Newspaper for Historical Evidence

    The importance of newspaper as a part of our history has been displayed by a huge amount of attention in efforts of archiving and preserving newspaper as a historic evidence. Students, researchers and the common public have always used newspaper archives as a source of information in determining what is happening in the past.

    Due to this degree of importance, there are even complaints regarding how poorly the US government maintains their newspaper archive (Cox, 1998). Historians believed that newspaper is an important evidence of our past and should not be easily replaced by microfilm and websites. Some of the obvious advantages when using newspapers as historical evidence are:

    2.1              Culture and customs

                In addition, of describing simple facts of past events, newspaper has the ability to describe the culture and customs of people at the time. Using words, sarcasms, and quotes analysts can extract values, tendencies and a portion of how the people in the past live their lives. For instance, newspapers in colonial and war times have the tendency to be less subtle compare to modern time paper, which might describes a time of dispute where thicker atmosphere of personal or group perspective poured into newspaper articles. Moreover, due to the lack of supervision, newspapers of the past can be highly inaccurate, describing slightly less regards toward order and the value of truth (Smith, 1995).

                The uses of words, which have different meanings from common terms, are also often found in past newspapers. For historian and analysts, these unique meanings are symbols of how the people of that particular time are thinking and what the powerful feeling that people of the time-share.

    2.2              Political conditions and perspectives

    Because of the less subtle nature of newspapers in the past, analysts can easily extract the reason of why the article is printed or in other words, the political stance of the writer. Sometimes, a political perspective within an article is not hidden, in effort of displaying organizational power or to establish proof of existence in history. This should not always be considered as a flaw in providing objective evidence of the past event. Mostly, truth regarding past events can still be extracted from such articles, with the addition of what some groups of people are feeling regarding the facts (‘Analyzing Historical’, 2008).

    3.                  Limitations of Newspaper as Historical Evidence

    Currently however, we have a high sense of truth regarding past events, in other words, accuracy and impartiality of the historic evidence is of important value. Here are several issues regarding the usability of newspapers as historic evidences:

    3.1              Problems of Secondary Sources

                Historical evidences refer to a series of information or occurrence that happen in the past. It is obvious that to obtain such evidences, people must collect from particular sources like magazines, journals, and newspapers.

                There are two kinds of sources: reliable and unreliable sources. The reliable sources mean that the historical evidence is justified without any make up. Meanwhile, unreliable sources are those are written or provided by adjusting some portion of the information in order to fulfill the providers’ concerns or intention.

    3.2              Relevance

                The issue discussed within the article used as historical evidence must have strong correlation to the claim we are trying to make. Sometimes, students have problems relating newspaper article to their historic claims and they end-up choosing the wrong articles.

    3.3              Identification

                Some of the articles we dug-up from the past are anonymous in nature. We cannot allow such articles to pass as historical evidence due to the lack of traceability.

    3.4              Validity

                As mentioned earlier, American historian haves been complaining of how the government manages preservation of historic newspapers. The use of microfilms to capture the article is often performed to save storage spaces, but the process lessened the validity of the newspaper. It is so much harder to trace the age of a newspaper once it is captured in a microfilm.

    3.5              Expertise

    Because of newspapers are written by reporters, there are always risks of incompetence. Usually, past articles lack the coverage of the issue in all available perspectives, leaving a one-sided story of the reported events. Another issue is incompleteness of information provided within the article. For present day newspaper, saying ‘many’ will obviously receive critics from the writer’s supervisors. In the past however, ‘many’, ‘few’, ‘seldom’ and ‘often’ are still widely used in articles

    3.6              Bias

    Getting information from newspapers contain the danger of bias, because newspapers contain people’s opinions and quotes that are unless directed by the writer, will lead to subjective understanding of the issue covered.

    3.7              Internal Consistency

                As mentioned, old newspapers use languages in different ways than modern ones. There is a problem of translation when getting information from old articles. Furthermore, some intentions and needs influence the process of making the article. Internal consistency issues can sometimes deviates us from getting into the truth of the matter.

    3.8              External Consistency

                Due to internal consistency issues, the use of newspaper as historic evidence requires observation of other corresponding historic evidence. Crosschecking the article to other historic evidences is required to ensure validity and unbiased nature of the information (‘Analyzing Colonical Newspaper’, 2008; Atlic, 1963.)


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    Cox, Richard J. Jane Greenberg, and Cynthia Porter, 1998. “Access denied: the discarding of library history,” American Libraries, volume 29 (April), pp. 57-61.

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    Advantages and problems of using newspapers as historical evidence. (2017, Apr 17). Retrieved from

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