Newspaper Formats

Newspaper Formats

Online Plain Text ~ Online PDFs ~ Online Direct
Microform ~ Disk ~ Paper


Tables listing the main formats for finding newspaper or news content with the pros and cons of each format and an access rating and a preservation rating. I have listed a few representative titles for each format. Some news sources are available in only one format--microfilm, for instance, but many titles are available in two or more formats.

Caveat emptor--LOST CONTENT: Be aware that access to newspaper articles can be compromised. Here are three ways:
The Tasini decision. In September 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tasini et al. v. The New York Times et al. that freelance writers must be paid additional compensation if their work was included in an online database (i.e., LexisNexis). As a result, online database providers removed many freelance-authored newspaper articles from their databases. These articles are available in the print editions. Some syndicated columnists and writers refuse to grant the publisher or vendor permission to publish an electronic version of their work.
Different editions: Newspapers often publish different editions for different cities or regions of the country. Articles that appear in one regional edition do not appear in all. Some newspapers also publish separate geographical supplements with unique content. In addition, newspapers publish chronological editions; articles in the early editions may not appear in later editions and vice versa. Usually only one edition is microfilmed. Articles in some online news sources are serially updated and the earlier updates disappear; in effect there are no editions.
Data loss: Some of the news that has been archived digitally or on film is irretrievably lost through data corruption, orphaned data files, or physical and environmental damage to the archived medium (i.e., microfilm). Newsprint disintegrates. News content may become unavailable due to software or hardware obsolescence--the infrastructure to access the data may no longer be available.


Format: Plain text, no graphics. Plain text is usually framed by an HTML interface.
Examples: Aggregators include Factiva, LexisNexis Academic, Access World News (aka NewsBank), ProQuest (Ethnic NewsWatch, Alt-PressWatch), World News Connection (1994- ), and Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, 1974-1996.
Content: Mainline newspapers, specialized/ethnic newspapers, international newspapers, mostly back to 1980, some back to 1960s. Partial content. Included content fully indexed.
Pros: Full text searchable; wide range of content; good currency; networked; relatively cheap per content.
Cons: Changing content; not an archival medium; loss of original formatting and visual information; loss of content (advertising, graphics, Tasini exclusions, multiple daily editions).
Access rating: Good. Networked.
Preservation rating: Highly variable; archived content can be withdrawn by individual newspaper publishers at any time.
Notes: Currently the dominant mode of access that the library provides users via paid subscriptions in terms of breadth and depth of content.

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Format: Reproduction of original in Adobe's Portable Document Format. ProQuest titles scanned from microfilm versions.
Examples: Library Press Display (over 200 newspapers from more than 55 countries).
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.
Content: Library Press Display is full content, retained for 60 days. ProQuest Historical Newspapers is mainline newspapers from first publication to a moving date some years ago. Full original content displayed in original format as PDF files. Original layout and graphics.
Pros: Easy to search full text; networked; original format/content.
Cons: Very expensive either initially or ongoing; some titles currently reproduced from microfilm, quality can be poor; searches are incomplete due to errors in OCRed text. Limited availability of titles. Either not current or current but with limited archive.
Access rating: Good. Networked.
Preservation rating: Good. (NB: Library Press Display is current 60 days only.)

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Format: HTML enriched with streaming audio and video. May borrow elements from a paper or broadcast version, but has a unique layout.
Examples: Aggregators for online direct titles: ABYZ News Links and NewsLink.
Direct access: The New York Times, Ithaca Journal, Le Monde, La Tercera, Shanghai Daily, CNN, BBC.
Content: Free Web access; full access may require registration. Same publisher as paper version. May be the current issue only. Lots of color. Very broad representation of geography and language; only the current day or very recent issues available for most titles; sometimes less free/available content than print version; unique content: video and audio files, more color photos; usually current day or week only or free.
Pros: Timely: the most current news available outside Twitter (articles time stamped and updated serially); unique content, sometimes searchable; free. Many titles not available in print.
Cons: Often contains current content only, usually less content than print or broadcast; ephemeral.
Access rating: Mixed. Good for very current issues. Some archiving of past content. Networked.
Preservation rating: Mostly poor. Many sites have current or recent issue only. Retention time usually not specified.
Notes: The only format that offers streaming audio and video. Concept of editions is gone because of ongoing updating. International coverage is far beyond that is available in other formats; Chile, for instance, has over 60 newspapers available online.

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Format: Broadcast, cable, and internet streaming audio and video.
Examples: Radio and television news services: broadcast, satellite, and cable. National Public Radio, CNN, MSNBC, BBC World, ESPN.
Content: Read text plus video and audio sounds and images.
Pros: Currency. Widely available.
Cons: Not usually available in libraries.
Access rating: Excellent.
Preservation rating: Very poor. Full broadcast often not archived or not available to the public. Some content preserved as text transcripts or available as sound files for purchase. NPR archives audio and provides free streaming access via their web site.
Notes: Some web versions of newspapers preserve streaming video and audio (i.e., The New York Times)

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Format: Film in rolls, individual sheets (microfiche) or on opaque card stock (micro-opaque).
Examples: The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times; black and international newspapers at the Center for Research Libraries; Early American Newspapers; International Coalition on Newspapers (ICON): Titles Preserved through ICON..
Content: Full runs of major U.S. newspapers in Olin ; shorter runs of smaller newspapers. No color.
Pros: Historical completeness; original page format; very good preservation medium, easy to borrow from other libraries via ILL (esp. Center For Research Libraries).
Cons: Not current; lack of indexing; difficult to access (specialized machinery, localized physical access--not networked); some poor reproduction.
Access rating: Fair.
Preservation rating: Very good.
Notes: Invaluable for historians, historical research.

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Format: On CD-ROM or DVD; viewable only when installed on an individual computer.
Examples: Le Monde sur CD-ROM, Pennsylvania Gazette, Civil War Newspapers, 19th Century African-American Newspapers. Plain text. Housed in the Electronic Text Center in Olin Library (NB: Pennsylvania Gazette, Civil War Newspapers, 19th Century African-American Newspapers are now also available online.
Content: Selected runs of a one or a few newspaper titles with a common theme. Newspapers of historical interest: U.S. Civil War titles from the North and South, abolitionist titles.
Pros: Requires very little storage space. Full text is searchable.
Cons: Limited content and time period covered; transitional medium.
Access rating: Fair.
Preservation rating: Uncertain, but probably poor. Usable life of disks unknown. Software changes will render them obsolete.
Notes: Specialized use as a searchable language corpus: a snapshot of the language in a given context at a given time.

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Format: Newsprint.
Examples: Many hundreds--perhaps thousands--of newspapers in the library; most are unindexed. Some represented by only one issue. Many retained for current six months, current year, or until microfilm arrives.
Content: Very broad representation of geography and languages. Complete content. Original layout. Color graphics in recent years.
Pros: Original content and format; diversity.
Cons: Often not indexed; not entirely current and rarely historically complete; much unindexed content; localized physical access (not networked)
Access rating: Overall, fair.
Preservation rating: Very poor. Very hard to preserve--bulky, poor quality paper; most titles are recycled after a specified time period, usually months. Exception: paper with rag content--usually 19th to early 20th century or before. Older newspapers are becoming artifacts rather than a primary means for content delivery.
Notes: For printed indexes of major papers see International Newspaper Indexes in Olin Library and U.S. Newspaper Indexes in Olin Library.

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23 November 2011 [MOE]
Michael Engle
Opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Cornell University Library.

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