Establishing the Significant History of a Newspaper on Wikipedia

Ultimately one of the prime goals of the Newspapers on Wikipedia project (#NOW) is to make sure that significant local publications have an infocard, and thereby are more likely to generate a Google panel in the search results.

But that’s not the first, or hardest step.

The first, and more difficult, step is to establish the significant history of the given newspaper so that the article meets notability requirements and will not be deleted. Once that is accomplished it is relatively simple to go back and add infocards.

So how do we do that? And what does it look like? It varies from paper to paper — but here are some resources you can use and examples you can mimic.

Start With the Library of Congress Record

Here’s the main thing to understand about Wikipedia – a primary source cannot establish its own notability. So that long history in the paper’s about section? You can cite that, but only after you’ve established much of the history and significance through other sources.

The Library of Congress has a project about historical newspapers called Chronicling America and one of the nice results of that is that they have bibliographic records on many papers. This is a good starting place because it not only provides you a nice authoritative Library of Congress cite for your newspaper page, but it also alerts you to different names the paper published under, who the owners were, and whether it was preceded by a related publication.

It’s worth taking note of all these names and people, as they are going to be search terms for you. You can also start to build the chronology of the paper. If the paper is the result of a merger, you may want to cover the history of the previous papers it grew from in the article.

You can do a fancy LOC search using “site:” syntax or use their own internal search (which I found a bit lacking). But for most papers, this sort of thing gets you where you want to go.

loc search.PNG

When you get to the LOC page, note the first date (or year) of publication, the frequency, the publisher, and any preceding titles as you’ll work this all into your article.

Because different papers sometimes have similar names you’ll also want to check the town of publication and the publication years. Occassionally LOC will have multiple records for the same paper name in the same town and you have to find the right one.

Search Google Books

A useful way to establish notability is to search Google Books. For instance, through Google Books I learned the Wellesley Townsman published one of Sylvia Plath’s early poems, as well as an obituary that blamed her death on viral pneumonia. That’s interesting, and also adds to notability. I also learned that the Griffin Daily News played a significant role in stoking racial resentment — locally and nationally — in the 1890s.

What you’re looking for in these accounts is not a book sourcing a fact to these papers, but the papers either playing a role in events or being covered due to their importance. So if a book just cites the paper as a reference — well, that’s not really notable. But if it talks about the paper directly — maybe about the sale of it, or how it was the only paper to support a certain candidate for Governor, or when it went to a daily publication schedule  — that’s something to throw in the article. You might also see if notable people may have worked for the paper at one time and go to their articles and link them to the paper.

Google Books also does auto-citing pretty well — throw the link into the cite box and it builds the citation for you. Don’t pull the URL from the location bar, however, pull it from the link up top after hitting “clear search” — this should provide a link directly to the cited page.


Some older Wikipedians get a bit grumpy about autocites — they don’t look as nice, and when multiple cites are used they don’t compress into nice “Ibid’s” etc. I’m sympathetic, but it’s not something you should worry much about. Using autocite maximizes your research time and provides direct links to evidence, so on the whole it’s a good thing.

Historical Newspaper Archives Will Save Your Life

The most useful resource for finding out the history of a paper is other contemporary papers. Start by checking if your university’s library has subscriptions to newspaper archive search engines.

Nineteenth Century Newspapers:


ProQuest Newspapers:


And Nexis Uni:



If you don’t have the access you need from your institution or local library you might want to pay for a personal account somewhere. The “Publisher Extra” subscription level of costs $75 for six months and a NewspaperArchive account is $50 for six months. Both are excellent sources, especially for small local papers.

Even for these accounts, you may not have to pay any money at all — Wikipedia provides a number of free accounts of NewspaperArchive to Wikipedians that have a significant edit history and no institutional access, as do some local libraries.

The amount of hidden history that you can find news archives is extensive. Here’s my recent clippings on J. J. Benford, editor and initial publisher of the Albertville Herald in GA:

In there we have the entire early biography of this editor. We’ve also got various articles on the merger of the Albertville Herald with the Sand Mountain Reporter.

Clippings are also shareable with the general public which makes them very useful on Wikipedia.

Here’s a shot of NewspaperArchive with an article on Jesse Culp, the editor of the Sand Mountain Reporter in 1961 when the article was published:


Now it’s on Culp speaking to the PTA, but we learn that he had been editor of the Sand Mountain Reporter since it spun up in 1955, and that — like J.J. Benford (who ran the other town’s paper) — his background was in agricultural radio reporting. We also get a nice connection (and therefore link out) to the WAVU Wikipedia article.

And here’s a Nexis Uni page on a purchase of the paper in 1999:


Pulling It Together

When you write your article, these bits of research are used for small parentheticals, but they get cited as well. For instance, here is a page for the Sand Mountain Reporter I drafted this morning out of these references:


If using historical newspaper archives, links should go to “clippings”, not pages, per both Wikipedia and the archives. Clippings in these systems are a way to share specific articles publicly, and linking to the clipping — which is not behind a paywall — allows others to check your work and the accuracy of your citation without needing an account.

In this case we weren’t able to find anything worthwhile in Google Books about this paper, but by getting down the history — even of this rather small paper — we’re able to show its long and important history in the community. And we’re able to do this without citing the paper itself, instead relying on the Library of Congress and four other local papers to tell the story here.

It would be nice if we had a Google Books story or two — a Sylvia Plath style story, or even a mention in a book on local Alabama history. But I think you can make the argument to those that ask that the long and continued coverage of this paper by other papers shows its importance to the region. While the paper may seem a little slight, it is not simply a weekly shopper of pay-to-play features, but a true area newspaper with a significant history.

After you’ve established notability, you can go ahead and write up an infobox on the page (or let someone else do it) giving the most current stats of the paper, and think about what needs to be in those important first couple sentences of the page. Or fix citations — I notice I didn’t note the page of the paper here, which I should do. But  starting with the history and significance will get you off on the right foot.








2 thoughts on “Establishing the Significant History of a Newspaper on Wikipedia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s