When people in Portland talk about a story that was “in the paper,” they often mean it was in the Oregonian. Until recently, the Oregonian was the city’s daily paper -- and it sort of still is: a daily edition is available online, at newsstands and at the library; while home subscribers get their papers only on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
The Oregonian has never been the Portland area’s only newspaper! Let's take a brief tour of some local newspapers past and present, and I'll show you a bit about how you can use them for your research.
For most of the 20th century, Portland residents had two or three local daily newspapers to choose from. The Oregon Journal was published daily from 1902 to 1982, and the Portland Telegram (also called the Evening Telegram and the News-Telegram) was published daily from 1877-1939. And, the daily Oregonian was available too, of course!
During this heyday of daily news, each paper had a different editorial policy and political niche. People generally say that the Journal supported the Democratic Party, the Oregonian supported the Republican Party, and the Telegram’s editorial stance was independent.
Weekly, semiweekly and neighborhood newspapers
There have always been many non-daily newspapers in the Portland area, too! These days, we have a long list of weeklies and semiweeklies, such as the Portland Observer, the Portland Tribune, the Willamette Week; and of course many neighborhood and suburban papers like the St. Johns Review and the Gresham Outlook. Some of these still-running non-daily newspapers have been in print a long time, and can be useful for historical research as well as for current news.
Other Portland-area weekly or semiweekly newspapers have sadly left us, but are still available at the library! Here are a few gems that you will not see on today’s newsstands, but which are in the library’s collection:
- New Age, an African-American newspaper from the turn of the 20th century
- Northwest Defender, an African-American newspaper from the mid-1960s
- Burnside Cadillac, the 1990s-era predecessor to Street Roots
- Portland Free Press, an underground paper from the 1990s
Finding newspaper articles at the library
Sometimes, the best way to research is to browse. If you want to know what was in the news on a particular date, you can go right to the library’s archive of the newspaper you’re interested in and start reading through the issues one by one. Nothing could be simpler -- except that this method is sometimes a little slow!
What if your research requires you to find newspaper articles by topic? To do this, you’ll need two things:
- an archive of the newspaper, so you can read it (this archive could include the print edition, a microfilm copy, and/or an online version)
- an index or a way to search for articles by keywords or topics, so you can find what you need
Archives of old newspapers
The library maintains an extensive archive of Portland newspapers of all stripes and stretching back more than a hundred years. Most are kept at Central Library -- visit the Periodicals room on the second floor to take a look at this wide-ranging collection.
Gresham Library has an archive of the semiweekly Gresham Outlook, and the librarians at Gresham are experts at finding old articles! Consult them any time you'd like help getting started with your Gresham newspaper research.
If your research requires reading newspapers from other parts of our state, be sure to consult Historic Oregon Newspapers -- an ever-growing archive of early Oregon newspapers that you can search and read online. Most of the papers included in Historic Oregon Newspapers were published 1922 or earlier.
That takes care of your first tool, an archive of the newspaper -- what about the second tool, an index or way to search?
While you’re in the Periodicals room at Central Library, take a look at the library’s local newspaper index. This card file index is like a big giant catalog of news topics -- you can look for any subject, from A to Z, and the newspaper index will point you to Portland-area newspaper articles on that subject.
This particular card gives us information about a couple of articles reporting on Portland freeways. This card is in the “F” section of the index, under Freeways. Portland. The article cited at the top is from the Oregonian (noted as “Oreg”), and was published November 28th, 1974, on page A56, column 1. The headline is “Let people speak on freeway issue.” The little red note on the left, “ed.,” tells us it was an editorial. The red note below tells us that there’s another reference to this article in the “M” part of the index, under the heading Mt Hood Freeway.
The second article cited on this newspaper index card has the headline “McCall asks end of Mt. Hood freeway,” and it was published in the Oregon Journal (noted as “Jour”) on November 28th, 1974, on page A11, column 3. This one also has a note in red underneath it -- but this time it’s just an explanation about the contents of the article.
[An aside: the Mt. Hood Freeway was never built; if you want to learn more, try reading the great article about it in the online Oregon Encyclopedia.]
The newspaper index card file mostly focuses on helping you find articles published 1930 to 1987, and like I said above, it only includes information about local newspaper articles. If you are looking for a news story from before 1930, consult the card file newspaper index first just in case (it does include cards for a few pre-1930 articles!).
If the newspaper index doesn’t help you find that pre-1930 story, try one of the bound index volumes that are on top of the card file case. Each of these bound newspaper index books works differently, and they cover different newspapers and different dates as you can see.
Talk to the librarian on duty in the Periodicals Room to get started with the bound newspaper indexes -- or if you have any questions about finding the articles or newspapers you need.
And, back to the Oregonian
Maybe you’ve consulted the card file local newspaper index, and the article you want was in the Oregonian. Or maybe you’ve tried using the newspaper index and it didn’t have everything you need.
The library has two great resources for finding Oregonian articles, and both allow you to search and read online:
- For recent articles, use the Oregonian (1987-present).
- For older articles, go to the Historical Oregonian (1861-1987). This resource is huge -- 126 years of every single page of the daily paper! To get started, check out my blog post Searching the Historical Oregonian (1861-1987).
Recent and historical issues of the Oregonian are also available to read in the Periodicals Room at Central Library, in old-fashioned paper and microfilm formats.
Have fun with your newspaper research!
Do you have more questions about searching for historical newspaper articles? Are you working on a local history project? If you'd like specific advice or help with your research challenges, do please Ask the Librarian!