September 26, 2019

How to Choose a Newspaper

By Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Projects Librarian

Last August, we were awarded a fourth NDNP grant, and with this blog post, we’re announcing which titles and date ranges have been selected and giving you a little behind-the-scenes of the selection process.

First some NDNP basics. NDNP stands for the National Digital Newspaper Program. It is funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities; but, the content is hosted by the Library of Congress on the Chronicling America website. Each grant cycle is 2 years and should produce about 100,000 pages.

One hundred thousand pages sounds like a lot, until you actually try to select titles and date ranges. When we were putting together our application, we needed a focus, a reason why NEH should approve our proposal. Since our last grant, the accepted date range has expanded from 1836-1922 to 1690-1963, so we knew we wanted to choose content after 1922, but what? We decided to focus on booms and busts in the mining, logging, agriculture and oil industries. Consider that for a moment, four major industries across the entire state over four decades, which include the Great Depression and WWII, in 100,000 pages!

Geographic distribution of selected newspapers this round
At this point the selection committee became my lifeline. We had a meeting in November 2018. They gave me a list of titles with date ranges that they thought would accomplish our goals. However, many of those titles were suggested with a 20 or 30-year date range. I had to look at these titles on microfilm, and if you’ve ever tried to look at a long date range of newspapers on microfilm you know how challenging and time consuming that is. Here are a few factors that I considered.

The Microfilm Itself:
The quality of the digital image is dependent on the quality of the microfilm image, which in turn is dependent on how it was microfilmed and, on the quality of the print pages it was created from. It’s also important to keep in mind that when the microfilm is digitized, the settings are determined for the whole reel, not for individual pages. When you see digitized newspaper pages that are too light or dark to read, are partially covered by the next page, or have random ink blots, those problems were on the microfilm.

Content - % of Local/State Coverage:
Obviously, priority goes to newspapers that have higher percentages of local and state coverage, but what counts as local or state coverage? Much of the state coverage comes from regular columns that you see in newspapers across the state or, from reprinted articles for other Montana newspapers. What I focus on more is how much of the issue is local. Columns titled “Local News”, “About Town”, or any news that comes from surrounding communities are what I look for. Are they covering the county commissioners’ meetings? Are they publishing obituaries? Do they talk about the local schools? And, for this grant in particular, are they covering one of the industries we’re interested in? For example, in an agricultural community are they providing advise from the extension service, information about crop prices, and legislation that will affect farmers? If the paper is overwhelmingly concerned with national or international news from the AP and doesn’t tie these events back to Montana, it won’t be selected.

Content – Copyright:
For published materials including newspapers, anything published in 1923 or earlier is in the public domain. From 1924-1963, a newspaper might be in the public domain. (In order to still be under copyright, they had to register the copyright for each issue and then renew the copyright 28 years later.) I have yet to find a Montana newspaper that went through the trouble of copyrighting.  However, during this period, newspapers published things like comics and fiction that potentially has its own copyright. Therefore, another selection question is how much copyrighted material is in each issue? We decided early on that we wanted to include the Producers News, a socialist newspaper out of Plentywood. But, we also wanted to pick another paper from the area for that same time period in order to compare and contrast political positions of the time. The committee suggested the Daniels County Leader; however, over half of each issue was copyrighted material. The thing about copyrighted material isn’t just that it’s copyrighted, making it a potential legal issue. If there is a high percentage of that, then, there’s probably not enough local and state content.  The Plentywood Herald was chosen instead.

Page Count:
Here’s a little newspaper math for you. The page count for a year’s worth of an 8-page weekly is 416 pages. A year’s worth of an 8-page paper published 6 days a week is 2,504 pages. Unfortunately, daily papers tend to have more pages per issue and, they also include a lot more non-local and state content; such as, a full sports page, a society section, a fashion section, and so on. This is why there are few daily Montana papers on Chronicling America and the few included have very short date ranges. While we didn’t choose any daily papers this time around, we are including the Montana Farmer-Stockman which was published twice a month, the shortest issue having 28 pages. We’re also doing an extended run of it (1948-1963), which is unusual for such a high page count paper. The difference is that this paper pulls content, and highlights people, from across the state, as opposed to covering the news of  just one town.

Now that you know a little more about the process, here is the list of titles that have recently been chosen.
Belt Valley Times (Oct 1921-1926)
Bozeman Courier (1921-1927)
Montana Labor News (1932-1951)
Circle Banner (Nov 1914-1924, 1921 and 1/2 of 1922 missing)
Columbian/Hungry Horse News (Aug 1946-1955)
Eureka Mirror (Mar 1932-Nov 1936)
The Fort Peck Press (Aug 1934-May 1937)
Glasgow Courier (1942-1945)
Montana Oil Journal/Montana Oil and Mining Journal (1931-1946)
Montana Farmer-Stockman (1948-1963)
The People’s Voice (Dec 1939-1963)
The Kevin Courier/The Montana Courier/The Kevin Review (May 1922-Jun 1929)
Laurel Outlook (1944-1950)
Western News and the Libby Times/Western News (1929-1949)
The Producers News (1928-Mar 1937)
Plentywood Herald (1927-1936)
Carbon County Chronicle/Carbon County News/Red Lodge daily news combined with Carbon County News/Carbon County News (1924-Jul 1945)
The Sidney Herald (1955-1963)
The Wolf Point Herald (1920-1932)