Newspapers are a rich source of information about culture, politics, and society, revealing in varying detail a range of local, national, and international issues. In addition to articles on specific topics, the spaces surrounding articles in a newspaper (advertisements, engravings, and photographs) may provide equally revealing information about the culture of a particular time period. For example, an article on politics may be surrounded by advertisements for fashions or household goods, giving researchers a broader picture of a particular time period.
Extensive collections of nineteenth- and twentieth-century newspapers are found in university and large public libraries. While many such institutions retain original paper copies, factors associated with age, such as brittleness, disintegration and yellowing, makes accessing and researching from the original newspapers difficult and dangerous for the newspapers themselves. One way around this issue of preservation is the use of microfilm to copy and preserve newspapers in a safe and accessible format. However, the legibility of the microfilm copy depends upon the integrity of the original paper, and in many cases even microfilm can be incomplete or difficult to read.
Though a rich source of diverse information, it is not uncommon for newspapers to be biased. Often serving as the organs of political parties and interest groups, newspapers advance particular viewpoints. However, while potentially misleading for the researcher, this bias can be one of the richest aspects of a newspaper. By engaging in the political debates of the time, newspapers reveal to the sensitive researcher the most contested issues and the public reaction to them.