How to Read and Interpret Them
There are several things researchers should keep in mind when they are attempting to find valuable primary sources within a newspaper. Failing to recognize any one of these factors can undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on their research.
As was mentioned in first section of this tutorial, newspapers from the nineteenth century were usually published with an affiliation to a certain political party. Keeping this in mind, it is important for a researcher to look for potential bias in the articles they are reading. For example, a northern abolitionist newspaper, like William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator, offers a very different spin in their articles regarding slave sales than those found in a southern, Democratic newspaper, like the Weekly Raleigh Register. Researchers should research the newspapers they use. The sources below, for example, provide information about the Raleigh Standard and its editor, William Woods Holden. The best place to start would be with secondary sources, but you may consult primary sources as well. Knowing this information helps the research spot bias in the newspapers.
Researchers should recognize that they are examining a time and place very different from their own. If they are, for example, reading articles about civil rights at the during the late nineteenth century, they must consider the outdated racial terms and offensive language they are likely to encounter as they read. Keeping this in mind, though, may ultimately offer the historian a more full picture of the topic at hand. Researchers should not, however, use these terms or language in their own writing unless they enclose them in quotation marks.
There are several questions one should ask themselves as they read and try to interpret news articles. Researchers should ask themselves these questions if they hope to obtain a full grasp of the information that is being provided.
- Is this time period appropriate to the event or person I am researching?
- How might this article be slanted or bias?
- Was this article written when the event took place or some time after?
- How can some facts have been changed?.