Black, White, and Read All Over: News Wire Access in Alaska

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WAMCATS telegraph tower at Fort Gibbon, Alaska.

One quirk of the Alaska Digital Newspaper Project is the prevalence of news coverage from all over the world. One would think that the remoteness of Alaska would make it difficult to receive news coverage from all over the state, much less the rest of the Lower 48. Instead, world news dominates the headlines of Alaska papers such as The Nome Nugget and The Cordova Daily Times with very little local news coverage; the Alaska Daily Empire is a member of the AP wire service.

This begs the question: How did Alaskans get wire news service?

The sheer remoteness of Alaska, especially during its days as a US territory, fueled demand for national news and world events. People from connected villages depended on dogsleds to deliver news and letters. The Klondike Gold Rush expedited this need for news with miners anxious to read about events in the Lower 48. In 1900, $450,000 Congress approved funding for the U.S. Army Signal Corps to construct cable and telegraph connections between outposts in Washington state and Alaska, called the Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System: “WAMCATS” for short.

 

 

These signal outposts were vital in transmitting radio and wire service- not only from the Lower 48, but throughout the state as well. In 1902, The Alaskan from Skagway and The Record-Miner from Juneau became the first Alaska newspapers to use WAMCATS to receive news bulletins that were then printed in papers. Newsrooms first used a “telegraph typewriter” or “teletypewriter” in 1914 by Melville E. Stone, general manager of Associated Press. The introduction of a teleprinter, which transmitted directly to printers over telegraph wires (60 words per minute), further hastened the spread of information.

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Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 26 Jan. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-01-26/ed-1/seq-4/>

On May 15, 1936 WAMCATS was renamed the U.S. Army Alaska Communications System, which remained under the control of the Army Signal Corps until 1962, when it was taken over by the U.S. Air Force.

The WAMCATS Army-built telegraph was the first major contribution to Alaskan infrastructure funded by the U.S. federal government. We owe the wide-ranging news items featured in Alaska’s historical newspapers to this massive effort- completed in a mere 5 years, no less. Today it’s easy to take worldwide connectivity through the Internet for granted. But this development through radio and newspapers meant giving Alaskans the ability to read about events outside the territory- and to feel more connected to the rest of the world.

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Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 19 Nov. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1917-11-19/ed-1/seq-4/>

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Parade float commemorating 50 years of WAMCATS. Image credit: From the John Sigler Photograph Collection as part of Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Greetings from the Alaska Anthropological Association Conference!

AAA PosterLast week, National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) director Anastasia Tarmann and project coordinator Janey Thompson attended the 45th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association in Anchorage to spread the word about historic Alaska newspapers and progress on the project.

In addition to a poster, we prepared brochures that provided a brief overview of the project, a Chronicling America demonstration on a laptop computer, and unique microfilm bookmarks.

While talking to scholars at the table, many shared their experiences using Chronicling America to assist in their research, one of whom used the site to study changes in brand logos in advertisements over time. Additionally, a few attendees shared titles that we should consider adding to the project and offered to serve on the title selection committee.

In addition to “tabling”, we each had the opportunity to attend lectures given by conference attendees. These presentations of their papers related to the archaeology and anthropology of Alaska, with topics ranging from language revitalization, to museum exhibit design, to the excavation of hearth sites, to the affects of global warming on historic anthropological landmarks.

The Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting gave us an opportunity to see what researchers and scholars throughout Alaska are studying, and how best our newspaper resources can assist them. Many thanks to all those who made the annual meeting possible!

AAA Conference

Parts of a Newspaper: The Front Page

In this installment of the Parts of a Newspaper series, we’ll be looking at the part most central- the front page! Contributing to this post was city reporter for the Juneau Empire, Gregory Philson, who helped shed light on differences between century-old front pages to those of today.

Below is a front page from the former Alaska Daily Empire (now the Juneau Empire) almost exactly 100 years ago, in honor of our guest:Juneau Empire 100 years ago

When encountering an older front page, one of the most striking differences to the modern reader is its sometimes-chaotic layout, such as this one below from the January 5, 1923 issue of the Seward Gateway:

Where's the story

Based on this front page, there is no clear visual “path” to the story from its headline. The main headline likely functioned to draw readers into the issue, and to then send the readers in search of the story, while taking them to the other stories. Back then, headlines needed to print every story on its front page, due to the relatively high production costs. Newspapers today typically will have one “central” story surrounded by secondary ones, which may not be as important to that day.

Looking at headlines on a more micro level, an important, if sometimes overlooked, aspect of front page design is in its typography. In addition to the way words look through typefaces, kerning (letter spacing) and letting (spacing between leaders) matters greatly. Letting should allow the reader to not have to think about how the story is physically designed and to enable the content to be understood.

To demonstrate kerning, examine the headline below from the April 21, 1918 issue of The Seward Gateway Daily Edition and The Alaska Weekly Post:

Bad Kerning

Upon first glance, it is difficult to discern the meaning of the sentence when it looks like “DOUBLEMURDERATKENAI“. Being unable to understand a headline at at quick glance is a clear issue. If the reader does not know immediately what something says, they are less likely to want to read it. Moreover, the philosophy behind proper kerning is to make the words easily read by anyone, which is the objective of any newspaper. Readers simply cannot absorb information if the words themselves are not legible.

Front pages prioritize main stories that highlight conflicts (foreign wars and domestic disputes), or people and events of note. The front page can represent a microcosm of one day in history; readers can search newspaper databases like Chronicling America just by the front page of a specific title. Whether a newspaper represents a small town or a major city, its front page often reflects the people, places, incidents, and events its readers value. A front page of a newspaper reflects a singular moment in time.

Many thanks to our guest, Gregory Philson, and the Juneau Empire, for your time and insights!

 

Featured Content: Batch II: What to Expect

The second batch of Alaskan historical newspaper pages has been accepted for ingest in Chronicling America!  Batch II will include two titles, the remainder of Douglas Island News and the beginning of The Daily Alaskan.  These titles will be available on Chronicling America in December.  Currently available titles for searching are the Alaska Daily Empire (1912-1917), Douglas Island News (1898-1907), and The Thlinget (full run, 1908-1912).

Batch II Details:

  1. Douglas Island news, Douglas City, AK, 1907-1922
  2. The daily Alaskan, Skagway, AK, 1898-1905

For more information on these and other titles visit the Alaska State Library’s page on Alaska Historical Newspapers.

 

FIRST BATCH LIVE!

The first batch of Alaskan historical newspapers is live on Chronicling America – FREE for you to search.     CLICK HERE!

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The 1915 Development Number issue of The Alaska Daily Empire, shown in Chronicling America. Highlighted text represents a search for the term “mill”.

NOW AVAILABLE:

1,206 issues of The Alaska Daily Empire (1912-1918), 448 issues of the Douglas Island News (1898-1907), and 47 issues of The Thlinget (1908-1912).

These digitized newspaper pages are TEXT SEARCHABLE.  For tips on searching check out our previous post, Searching Chronicling America, or visit the Help page.

To start exploring Alaskan papers in Chronicling America CLICK HERE or visit Chronicling America and use the dropdown menu to select “Alaska”.

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Happy Searching!

Searching Chronicling America

There are multiple ways to search historical newspapers for information using Chronicling America.  But where do you start?

Search_ChronAm_frontpage

When doing any kind of research it’s important to consider your subjects.  In genealogy this could be your ancestors’ names, in science it could be a theory or phenomenon, and in history it could be an event or place name.  One thing to consider about searching within historical newspapers is the diversity of language used when describing these things.

For example if you’re searching for articles on the Chisana Gold Rush you might only be finding a fraction of the information out there if you’re only searching “Chisana”.  In the early days of the rush there were multiple spellings of Chisana (pronounced Shooshana), sometimes called Shushanna, and often spelled Shushana or Sushana.  Names of towns, regions, rivers, and lakes also differed as new trails were mapped in addition to the use of both Native and non-Native place names.

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Also take into consideration the vernacular of the time period.  If you’re researching women’s fashion trends on the Frontier you may want to consider searching the more antiquated term “trousers” instead of “pants”.

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“The First Woman In Atlin”. Article from the front page of the January 18, 1899 issue of the Douglas Island News.

Luckily Chronicling America has a number of search options that will help you narrow your searches and find the specific information you’re after.  To begin there is the Basic Search that appears on the Chronicling America homepage.  You may begin with a broad search here to judge if you need to further narrow your search.  The Basic Search allows you to choose which state you’d like to search, a date range, and any keywords you’d like.  A search for “coal” in West Virginia newspapers from 1800-1899 results in 65,414 results.

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At this point you may choose to give up OR check out the Advanced Search tab found at the top of the homepage (definitely check out the Advanced Search).

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The Advanced Search lets you select multiple states or specific newspapers if you have a specific town or region you’re interested in.  You can limit searches to just the front page and you can also choose what language the paper was published in (currently the only languages offered are English, French, German, and Spanish).  The phrase search “mardi gras” in newspapers published in French from Louisiana, 1789-1924 yields 155 results.

If you move to the All Digitized Newspapers 1789-1924 tab you’re given the added unique option of searching publications by ethnicity such as Jewish, African American, or Irish.  With the ethnicity search you may also select what state and language (or simply leave the default “All” setting).

Search_ethnicity

And finally, if you’re searching for a popular topic in American history visit the Recommended Topics page (link located on the left sidebar of the Chronicling America homepage).  This page offers preselected articles provided by the Library of Congress (new topics added on a regular basis).  Here you have the option of browsing topics in alphabetical order, by subject category (shown below), or by date (topics arranged by decade).  This page in particular is an excellent resource for students and educators looking to incorporate digital historical newspapers into the classroom!  I highly recommend checking it out.

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Now you should be equipped with the knowledge for starting your first search in Chronicling America – happy searching!

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For additional tips and help with Basic Searching and instruction in Advanced Searching visit the Help page on Chronicling America at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/help/

 

Opening Statement: The Thlinget

The Opening Statement series features the foreword or introduction given by  editors or publishers in the first issue of the paper addressing its readers. 

 

The Thlinget

The Thlinget, August 1908, Vol. 1, No. 1

Publisher: The Sitka Training School

“FOREWARD

Our Paper bears the name of The Thlinget not because this is the name of the largest tribe of Alaskan natives but because it means “the people” Although primarally a school paper The Thlinget will be constantly devoted to the welfare of all native people of Alaska.  With this introduction we are glad to make your acquaintance and earnestly hope that our acquaintance may develop into warm friendship.”