What’s in a Name: Newspaper Archives and Newspaper Morgues by Moira Hinderer

The term “newspaper archive” can have several meanings.  In the past few years, “newspaper archive” has evolved to describe an online collection of digital copies of articles from a newspaper.  If you type “newspaper archive” into a search engine, you will see a large number of results, many of which link to free or paid sites that contain digitized copies of historical newspaper articles.  Access to online digitized historical newspapers is incredibly valuable, sparing scholars many hours spent hunched over finicky microfilm readers. However, these articles are not all that newspaper archives have to offer.

People interested in conducting a thorough analysis of newspaper sources should consider the resources available in newspaper morgues. These morgues are composed of the  supplemental materials contained in the physical archive of a given newspaper.  Physical newspaper archives often contain additional materials that do not exist in digital newspaper archives.  These materials may include bound volumes of the newspapers, newspaper morgue materials, institutional records, and personal papers of people associated with the newspaper.  Currently, no physical newspaper archive has fully digitized these supplemental materials.

Archival newspaper morgues can answer questions which cannot be answered by simply reading articles published in newspapers. Scholars interested in how newspapers were received by readers, how reporters and editors decided what to publish, and the financing of newspapers will find these morgues incredibly useful.

While most scholars of African American history use Black-owned newspapers in their research, as the wide circulation and high pass rates of Black newspapers make them solid sources for understanding what information was circulating in Black communities, scholars also acknowledge certain limitations with using these newspapers.  Historians have had little information about how readers received coverage or how newspaper owners and editors made behind-the-scenes decisions.  

The AFRO-Newspaper provides several examples that illustrate new possibilities for scholarly analysis provided by archival newspaper morgues.  The AFRO collection includes letters from W. E. B. Du Bois complaining about his own newspaper coverage, materials pertaining to a lawsuit brought by a young dancer whose topless photos were published in the newspaper, readership surveys dating back to the 1940s, and internal correspondence and financial records.  All of these materials allow for a more nuanced view of the negotiations between newspaper employees, the subjects of newspaper reporting, and the readers of Black newspapers.

In a pre-internet age, newspaper morgues were an essential in-house research center.  A typical newspaper morgue contained clippings and photographs filed by person, place, or event.  The materials could be used as the basis for future stories.  Some newspaper morgues also filed external and internal correspondence, reporters’ notes, and other supplementary materials in the morgue.  Now that historical newspapers are available in digital formats with full-text searching, some of the clippings in archival newspaper morgues merely duplicate material that is more accessible in digital formats.  However, the additional materials available in newspaper morgues provides additional information for scholars about how decisions were made behind the scenes at newspapers, information which cannot be gleaned from reading the newspaper itself.

Institutional records like readership reports, advertising contracts, internal correspondence, and financial records can be found in the physical archive of a newspaper (if the archive has been preserved).  Like the information contained in newspaper morgues, these records are invaluable for scholars who seek to understand how newspapers made publishing decisions.

For a good list of newspaper archives and morgues, see

Newspaper Archives, Indexes & Morgues

The Chicago Defender Newspaper Morgue 

The AFRO-American Newspaper Morgue