The periodical as document genre evolved from the book, and the reason is that the periodical filled two main needs that the printed book could not:
There are dozens of types of periodicals. Four important types are described below:
These distinctions are a method for classifying sources; like other classification schemes, this one is intended to help you complete a task. In this case the task is drawing conclusions about the nature of a source. The conclusions you draw should not be your final judgment on the question of the source's value. Classification schemes often obscure as much as they reveal about whatever they are attempting to describe.
Neither source type ("scholarly" or "popular") definitively indicates the value or reliability of a source, but recognizing the difference can sometimes make it easier to predict the probability of a source's value and reliability. You still need to evaluate each source critically.
Many of the article indexes on the previous page include citations to articles from non-scholarly periodicals like magazines and trade newspapers.
In libraries, newspapers are treated differently than periodicals (even though newspapers fit the definition of "periodicals" in most respects). The main reason for this difference is that the methods of acquiring, describing, organizing, displaying, preserving, and providing ongoing access to newspapers are very different than the methods used for journals and magazines. Even when newspapers have been digitized, the methods of digitization are very different than the methods of digitizing other periodicals, and digitized newspapers are usually found in specially designed collections with interfaces intended to support the unique demands of searching digitized newspapers.
From the researcher's point of view, a major difference between newspapers and other periodicals is that most newspapers were never indexed, and only one American newspaper (New York Times) was indexed in its entirety. What this meant for researchers was that the only method of discovering articles was by browsing newspapers, issue by issue, page by page, article by article.
Obviously, digitization of newspapers has drastically improved matters for researchers, though even digitized newspapers present challenges that you will probably not encounter with digitized journals and magazines.
Some challenges to expect when using newspapers for historical research:
1. Not all newspapers have been digitized. Although it may seem as though everything is online, the reality is that many newspapers are not yet digitized, and many digitized newspapers are behind paywalls. For the United States, digitization of (extant) nineteenth and eighteenth century newspapers is much closer to complete than is digitization of twentiethth century newspapers. For twentieth century newspapers, you'll primarily find major metropolitan titles through the Library. Thousands more are available through subscription-based services like Newspapers.com, but those titles are not available through the University Library because the companies do not offer institutional subscriptions.
2. Accuracy of keyword searches varies wildly. Newspapers are notoriously difficult to digitize, due to factors like their large format, multi-column layout, article jump-continuations, variety of fonts and graphical material, lack of standard page layout, sloppy presswork and old type, torn pages, crumbling pages, badly mended tears, stained pages, dirty pages, faded ink, clipped articles, bleed-through, gutter shadow, creases, non-standardized orthography in early newspapers, and more. Any and all of these factors can make keyword searching difficult and even inaccurate.
3. The concept of news. The most common mistake we see students make when working with historical newspapers is applying a twenty-first century concept of news to older newspapers. Prior to the 1830s, "news" was commercial and political intelligence, and remember that the latter category would be political intelligence for those who held the franchise.2 The "modern" newspaper evolved most from the penny paper, which came of age in the 1830s.
4. Vocabulary. Vocabulary changes quickly. To retrieve relevant articles, you must use vocabulary contemporary to the period you are researching. If, for example, you were using newspapers to research the history of queer experiences, you might, depending on the place and time you are researching, find evidence in police reports. Until very recently, crime reporters used the language of the penal code to describe queer experience, especially in the era before Stonewall, and like the penal code itself the language was morally charged. You will find that words like "lewd conduct", "immorality", "dissolute conduct" frequently reference homosexual acts, and these are the kinds of words you will need to retrieve articles. Unfortunately for the researcher, these words were also used to describe any sexual act between unmarried persons. "Sodomy" is another important keyword, though again "sodomy" could also describe criminal sexual acts between members of the opposite sex. If searching for names, bear in mind that first and middle initials were often used in lieu of first names. A married woman was often referenced by her husband's name, e.g. "Mrs. Henry Smith". People could be referenced by their legal first names (e.g. Donald), or by a shortened form (Don, Donny, Donnie), or even by a nickname. You would need to use all forms of the name to make sure you retrieve all relevant articles.
Digitized newspaper collections tend to make rather extravagant claims about the documentary value of newspapers. For example, America's Historical Newspapers claims that it "Chronicles the evolution of American culture and daily life from 1690 to the recent past". Commercial newspaper vendors usually argue that historical newspapers offer some privileged view of "daily life" or "social history", or cite the old cliché that newspapers are the "first draft of history", or a "window onto the past", all of which is ironic since, until the past few decades, historians tended to view newspapers as doubtful sources of information.3
Below are some digitized newspapers and newspaper collections that might be useful for researching the history of Apartheid in South Africa.
1. D.E. Davinson, The Periodicals Collection: Its Purpose and Uses in Libraries (London: Andre Deutsch, 1969), 38.
2. Andrew Pettegree, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know about Itself (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2014); Ross Eaman, Historical Dictionary of Journalism (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2009); Bob Franklin, Key Concepts in Journalism Studies (London: SAGE, 2005).
3. Lucy Maynard Salmon, The Newspaper and the Historian (New York: Oxford University Press, 1923).