November 17, 2022

Analyzing Primary Sources: Identifying Bias in Presidential Election Newspaper Coverage

Last Updated on September 11, 2022

Meade County news. (Meade, Kan.), 24 Oct. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

In a Teaching with the Library of Congress blog post, Deborah Thomas, program manager for the National Digital Newspaper Program at the Library of Congress, discusses Helping Students Read Between the Lines: Identifying Bias and Attitude in Newspapers for the Presidential Election of 1912.

With three major candidates, rather than the traditional two, the 1912 election became a varied debate between special interests, government oversight, and the value of individuals in society.

While each candidate spoke out for himself in speeches and public statements, newspapers and their editors played a significant role in shaping public attitude toward each candidate, often through political cartoons, descriptive language, and even page layout.

National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) members can access Thomas’s original article, which identifies four newspaper items she selected, from the November/December, 2015 issue of Social Education. If you are not an NCSS member, use the links below to access select articles or to explore election coverage from May 1 to November 4, 1912 in order to select other sources.

When reviewing newspaper coverage, be sure to click the link to the newspaper name to gain background information and historical context.

newsnamelink

For help with analyzing historic newspaper items, review the analysis guides linked to below.

For each primary source you select, challenge students to identify the elements of bias and determine the perspective of the particular newspaper and how it might have influenced voters.

After students have analyzed the 1912 newspaper items, have them work in groups to find newspaper coverage (print or digital) of a contemporary presidential election, analyze the sources for bias, and then compare and contrast their historical and contemporary findings. Be sure to have students investigate each newspaper they use (see tips and links below).

Students then can communicate their newfound understandings from the historical and contemporary primary source analyses through a short written essay, a digital timeline, or a print or digital poster.

Newspaper bias research tips & links

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