Finding “exact copies” of newspaper articles

The 19th edition of the Bluebook gives expanded guidance for using and citing electronic sources, including newspaper articles. In fact, no fewer than five different Bluebook rules address the use of electronic versions of newspaper articles!1 These rules reveal the tension between current trends in academic scholarship on the one hand, and the importance of reliable and authoritative references on the other. In practice, for example, academic authors seem to rely heavily on electronic sources, while the Bluebook continues to reference “traditional printed sources” in its citation rules. Other trends include enormous technological changes in the publication and consumption of news, and drastically shrinking budgets for print resources in the academic libraries that support authors and cite-checkers.

What does this means for cite-checkers? For one thing, it means that you can now think of Bluebook’s newspaper-citation rules, taken as a whole, as outlining two separate approaches to using and citing electronic versions of newspaper articles: 1) one for “exact copies” that look like photographs or photocopies of printed articles, and 2) another for versions that don’t look like printed articles.

Washington Post - Exact Copy
Exact Copy
Not exact copy
NOT Exact Copy

1) Exact copies

You can use and cite an electronic version of a newspaper article exactly as if it were the original print source only if it’s an “exact copy” — that is, a PDF that preserves pagination and layout, according to R. 18.2.1(a)(iii). Several online resources have exact copies of newspaper articles, especially large daily papers. Finding exact copies isn’t always easy, but a good place to start is searching by the title of the newspaper in ANTPAC. You can also come to the reference desk if you’d like help searching for an exact copy of a newspaper article.

Examples of Exact Copies
Citation example Source for Exact Copies
Robert Barnes, Justices Allow Funeral ProtestsWash. Post, Mar. 3, 2011, at A1. ProQuest Digital Microfilm

  • 2008 – a few months from today
Ruben Castaneda, We Can’t Let This Continue: Funeral of Asian Shopkeeper Becomes a Rallying Point Against ViolenceWash. Post, Oct. 4, 1993, at D1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers

  • 1887 – 1994
Kari Lydersen, 5 States Consider Bans on Protests at Funerals – Proposals Aimed at Anti-Gay DemonstrationsWash. Post, Jan. 30, 2006, at A9. 2 Microfilm at Ayala Science Library, here on campus. The microfilm reader lets you save a PDF of the microfilm image.

  • 1950s – 2010

(The Law Library will occasionally be able to get exact copies of newspaper articles via ILL, too. That process is worth a post of its own.)

2) Not “exact copies”

If the electronic version is not an “exact copy,” you can’t format your citation as if you used print. But Bluebook does allow use and citation to electronic copies of newspaper articles! Truly. If print (or “exact copy”) is “difficult or impossible to obtain,” you should use and cite electronic versions, according to rule 16.8.

Electronic versions will usually come from “Commercial Online Databases” like Lexis, Westlaw, or Proquest, or they can come from the Internet. (Bluebook makes a distinction between the two in both Rule 16.8 and in Rule 18.)

Sometimes it might be appropriate to capture screenshots of Internet content. For example, an author might make an assertion about changes in the content of an online breaking-news article that was updated throughout a day. The Public Editor of the New York Times gave examples of this type of online-update issue in June, 2011: On, Now You See It, Now You Don’t.

Examples of citations to online newspaper articles in the 19th Edition of the Bluebook are in several rules: 16.6(e) and (f), 16.8(a), and 18.3.4.

1There are lots of rules for newspaper articles! When determining whether and how to cite (and use) an electronic version of a newspaper article, you should check your journal’s manual, and consult the Bluebook rules below.

  • 16.6 provides general guidance on formatting citations to newspaper articles. Subsections 16.6(e) and (f) discuss online versions of newspapers.
  • 16.8(b) tells cite-checkers to cite (and use) electronic versions of periodical materials — including newspaper articles — when the print is “difficult or impossible to obtain.”
  • 18.2.1 provides “General Internet Citation Principles,” including a note that “exact” electronic copies of printed sources can be used and cited “as if to the original print source.”
  • 18.3 says that citations to commercial electronic databases such as Lexis and Westlaw are preferred over other online sources.
  • 18.3.4 says that you should still follow Rule 16 in formatting a citation to an electronic version of a newspaper article, and reprints examples from Rule 16.6(e) and 16.8(a).
  • (Bonus) 18.5 says that you usually don’t have to spell it out if you’ve used a document that’s been reproduced in microfilm.

2 Cite this without noting that the original printed article was reproduced in microfilm, because it’s not “otherwise difficult for a reader to identify and obtain the source.” R. 18.5.1.