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The Newspaper Chase

This is a light-hearted post for anyone — librarians, students, and Interlibrary Loan (ILL) staff — who has been involved in verifying citations to newspaper sources for student-published law journals.

Some articles from the “big city” (New York and Chicago, especially) papers have long been a challenge, due to the existence of numerous editions in a single day, with slightly different content. Nowadays newspapers that still provide print editions (at least on some days of the week), but also sometimes post content exclusive to their associated websites, can provide additional challenges. The newspaper industry, at least in major cities, arguably has been in disarray for decades, for reasons that might include new emphasis on “the bottom line” due to Wall Street expectations and an emphasis on “infotainment.” For an account of the demise of the traditional newspaper, see the 1993 book by James D. Squires, Read All About It: The Corporate Takeover of America’s Newspapers. Newspapers have also lost advertising revenue to free alternatives, such as Craigslist, and to relatively new competition via internet advertising. Newspapers likely will not be producing archival editions of their papers in the print or microform format the Bluebook currently still strongly recommends.

While one of our student journal editors in chief decided not to rely on microform at all (allowing students to rely on online versions), other student journals are still eagerly pursuing newspapers in print and/or microform formats. Librarians (even ones who do not have hobbies such as crosswords and sudoku) who have encountered the less-than-perfect digitization of newspaper articles on computer-assisted legal research systems may agree with this editorial principle, or perhaps enjoy the pursuit of the correct ISSN/OCLC numbers to plug into interlibrary loan networks. I suppose a few librarians may see this as a type of job security, but it seems that in the current environment of law schools (especially), librarians should aim a bit higher in the value-added services arena.

Students now submit many newspaper citations to ILL without page numbers, presumably because the author of the article found the article online. Online databases and newspaper or other indexes can often provide the respective starting page number of such articles. On the other hand, other factors may impede the ability of a reference librarian to find the needed page number. There are also “web exclusive” stories and wire stories that have no print or microform equivalent, no matter how many levels of student editors inquire, nor how diligently librarians may search.

The cite-checking business has become more interesting of late, with newspapers shutting down completely (Rocky Mountain News), going “online only” (Christian Science Monitor), or offering home delivery of the print version on selected days. (e.g. Detroit newspapers) In the future, cite-checkers and librarians may have to consult a perpetual calendar to determine on which days newspapers were published exclusively online. In addition, some articles are “web exclusives,” even if all such articles are not so helpfully marked. Also, some articles are derived from wire services, such as AP or Reuters, with virtually the same article appearing in numerous papers.

Recently, we had an interesting cite to a Chicago Tribune article that reappeared in several newspaper sources (or at least their online equivalents, e.g. Philly.com/Philadelphia Inquirer), including the San Jose Mercury News (apparently unpaginated). The San Jose Mercury News version has the same author and article title on the byline, with a further attribution to compilation by “staff reports.” Barring my joking plagiarism possibility, I assumed that the two newspapers are owned by the same parent company, and that the newspapers share (online, at least) content.

But, then, the all-knowing Wikipedia informs me that there are different owners for the two newspapers. The mystery continues, but I think it is time for a suduko.