Tip: Want A Better Newspaper Search Result? Get An Attitude

Tip – Want Better Newspaper Search Results? Get an Attitude


If you’ve read any prior articles or tips, then you know that the quality of the scanned newspaper as well as the OCR process dictate the quality of the search index.  And when you are searching for words or combinations of words, you essentially are trying to match your search criteria against that index.

Here’s a news flash – the search index for older newspapers especially is NOT very good.

Here’s an example for a 115-year-old newspaper, with the original first, followed by the search index:

There are words missing and several of the words are “misspelled.” The thing that many newspaper researchers forget and why they get frustrated is that they think that they are searching against an index that is an EXACT (or near exact) replica of the original newspaper article.

Many researchers quit searching newspapers primarily because of three reasons:

  • This feeling that they have that the search index is an exact replica or near an exact replica (say 90% of words represented correctly) is so stuck in their brain, that when the index is say only 50% or less of the exact words in the original, that they just can’t handle this difference. It just becomes “too hard for them to deal with.”
  • The search criteria that they create is not very detailed and is simplified, such as searching for just a person’s surname. They may get too many results in the case of a common surname, or not enough or none for a more complex surname.  And they don’t put in a date range or a first name, or other distinguishing words that would help. So, in this case, their lack of training or desire to learn, results in failure.
  • They can’t find what they are looking for because the information is not available because the dates for an event or a person are not available in the newspaper collection. For example, if you are looking for an event or an event in a person’s life that happened say between 1915 and 1935, and the newspaper collection that is online does not have any newspapers for that date range, guess what the search results will be?  Not very many if any.

Let’s look at this from an emotional or attitudinal perspective.  And some of these emotions or attitudes are as follows:

  • This stuff is in a database so it should be easy to find
  • Why should I spend time learning how to search newspapers – it can’t be that hard
  • Everything is online isn’t it, so how come I can’t find anything
  • Why can’t I just put a name of the person or event in the box and have the system give me the results I want?

Here’s the deal and you won’t like what I am going to say, but here goes:

If you can’t find what you are looking for, then ask yourself these questions – “Have I really tried to learn about successful search techniques, or am I just winging it? Am I lazy? Do I have unreal expectations of the software vendor? Am I searching really old newspapers where the quality is most assuredly lousy? Have I really tried to overcome the likely less than optimal search index by trying the many search tips that are available for me to learn about?”

You see the problem is more than likely ATTITUDE.  To be successful as a newspaper researcher, you must be DETERMINED.  You must LEARN and apply what you have learned to create better search criteria.

You know why this ATTITUDE is important?  Because more than likely the SEARCH INDEX is lousy and what I mean by that is it likely does not fit your expectations. And that more than likely is NOT the software vendor’s fault.

So, what do you do?  Get determined to OUTSMART the search index.  Read about different search techniques and tips and view tutorials. Apply what you have learned with vigor. Then and only then will you have as much success as you can get when searching old newspapers.