This is a self-guided tutorial on using newspapers and magazines as primary sources for historical research. The tutorial comprises a short introduction, followed by a series of exercises. In this regard, the tutorial follows the approach described by Aristotle in book two of his Nicomachean Ethics: what we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.1
As history students, you use primary sources to document, as accurately as possible, past events or phenomena. Depending on your research question, newspapers and magazines might form part of the source base for your topic. Newspapers and magazines are not always primary sources, nor are they always the best sources for establishing what happened in the past. When they are appropriate primary sources, however, it's important that you avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions, or making false assumptions, about a source's reliability. This tutorial will help you avoid making those mistakes by teaching you how to look at newspapers and magazines critically and analytically.
You are probably already familiar with newspapers and magazines, but the purpose of this tutorial is to help you distance yourself from whatever assumptions you make about them. You will learn how to describe the different parts of newspapers and magazines. (Imagine trying to describe a baseball game without knowing the names of the different positions, or their purposes.) You will learn how to talk about newspapers precisely, using the correct terminology for their different parts, and learning how those different parts can help you evaluate them as primary sources.
The tutorial comprises a series of activities that guide you through the process of examining newspaper and magazine articles, and evaluating them for reliability, accuracy, currency, and bias. After you complete this tutorial, you should be able to look at a magazine or newspaper article, describe its different parts precisely, understand what information those parts are meant to convey to the reader, and, most importantly, make an informed judgment as to how accurately it documents the historical event or phenomenon you are researching.
Finally, the exercises will give you a chance to see both the advantages and disadvantages of working with digitized surrogates for print-based historical artifacts. All of the articles in these exercises were originally issued in print, and are presented here in digitized versions.
1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Sarah Broadie and Christopher Rowe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002),111.
Comparing Tabloid and Broadsheet Newspapers
- Length: 642 words (1.8 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Comparing Tabloid and Broadsheet Newspapers
In the last century, English newspapers have been categorized into two
main groups: Tabloids and Broadsheets. The Telegraph and The sun are
the most popular Tabloids and Broadsheets. Hollinger International
owns the Telegraph while the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch owns the Sun,
The Times and The BSkyB Television network. These papers are perfect
examples of British newspapers. They both support the Conservative
Party, although The Sun does tend to sway, but always comes back to
The Tories point of view. Even though they share the same political
view. They have very different layout and content.
One of the first differences a reader notices about these two Tabloids
and Broadsheets is their size. The word ”Tabloid” comes from the
French meaning tablet, Tablo; Broadsheets explain themselves. The
second thing that, as a reader, you would notice is the different
count of words on each front page. On The Telegraphs front page it
has about two thousand two hundred and fifty words; compare that with
the word count of The Sun reaching just fewer than one hundred and
twenty. The Sun on the other hand is much more visually orientated, as
it has pictures covering almost two thirds of the page, with the
photographs themselves regularly telling the
story. Compare that with The Telegraphs one fifths worth of the front
page devoted to images, plus The Telegraph is twice the size of the
tabloid and is much more a text-based newspaper.
These two newspapers have considerably different reading age. The
Sun’s being just over six and half as compare that with The
Telegraph’s, which is sixteen; There is just under a decade different.
This is not by accident. This is because they have very different
target audience. The Sun’s target audience is generally working class.
This is because The Sun contains a lot of sport and photographs of
semi-naked women. These all contribute to the newspapers target
audience. The Telegraph’s target audience is quite different from The
Sun’s. The Telegraph’s content differs from The Sun’s, as it has it
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almost sixteen times as much business news and information than The
Sun; Also The Telegraph has a separate supplement for the sport.
Another reason these two newspapers are so different is the use of the
English language. The Sun uses more slang and common terms while The
Telegraph uses more complex and sophisticated, all this evidence
points to the conclusion that The Telegraphs target audience is middle
class, businessmen and women.
The layout of the front page also explains a lot about the general
content of the paper. For example in The Sun the front page is about
one main story and a big photograph takes up the space advertising one
other story. The Sun’s Masthead is very prominent and makes the paper
recognisable contains the price, date and the website. The front page
of The Sun is sexually oriented as an example there are two very
beautiful, scantly dressed women to catch the eye of the men. The
Telegraph’s front page is quite different but some similarities do
exist. An example of this is that the name of the “The Telegraph” is
very bold and has several superlative statements like ”Read a
bestseller every day” and “Britain’s best-selling quality daily”, all
these statements are actually true. The Telegraph has 10 different
stories on the front page, which indicates that it has a variety to
offer a wide scale of people. It also has a general index of the paper
and an advertisement for Ryan-Air Aeroplane Company.
On the subject of advertising The Sun has many more pages dedicates to
advertisements. For instance in The Sun there are several entire pages
covered with adverts and also little ads constantly throughout the
paper. All manner of things are advertised from holidays to cars, from
mortgages to electrical goods. All together there are twenty pages of
pure advertising in The Sun. The Telegraph on the other hand only has
five pages of advertising. These adverts are specifically for the
target audience, for example they are advertising Laptops, for
businessmen and expensive, executive cars and luxury holidays to the
To conclude both of these papers are stereotypical newspapers that
share the same political stance but cater for different people. The
Sun is more for the working class men and The Telegraph is written for
the Middle class businessmen and women. They have different content as
well, for instance the Telegraph is filled with business news and
information while The Sun is has got less business news and more
semi-naked women. Also the sun has more advertisements and pictures.
The Telegraph has less adverts, but it is a much more text-based
paper. The size is also very specific for these papers, although now
The Telegraph has now been printed in the size of a tabloid.