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Primary Sources: Objectivity and Bias - Newspapers

A guide to finding and using Primary source materials

Newspapers - A Special Case

While newspapers are excellent primary sources for of-the-moment reporting, the sheer size and scope of newspaper collections can make using them for research a daunting undertaking.  However, a newspaper may be the only available source of information about an event or person.  Other factors to consider:   

  • Newspaper reporting is generally subjected to editorial oversight, which can affect objectivity.  
  • Newspapers are often a for-profit industry, so their bottom line is driven by sales volume, advertising, or the number of "clicks" garnered.
  • Even with advances in digitization, searchability remains uneven and can be frustrating.    

Violations of Media Objectivity

Media Objectivit by LKaras Work

Recognizing Bias - Newspapers

Using primary source materials in any research project requires an understanding of inherent bias.  Newspapers, like other media outlets, are often owned by or affiliated with individuals or groups that hold particular social, political, or economic views and motivations.  This in turn may lead to biased reporting, or the use of commentary that supports or promotes a specific viewpoint or ideas over others.  Newspapers are driven by the need to sell copies or drive online views, which could unduly influence content and reporting, so recognizing the potential for bias is critical when evaluating any source.  

This potential for biased reporting can lead to confirmation bias and motivated reasoning on the part of the researcher, affecting how they perceive news.  The link below provides additional information compiled by the News Literacy Project to help you more confidently evaluate news stories.