So, you’re trying to find copies of old magazine and/or newspaper articles.
Easy, right? Ha! That’s what you think.
A few months ago, I was given the task of tracking down some old magazine and newspaper articles for a book project we were working on.
Given that the articles were to be included in the book, they had to be original publications or copies with the pictures and format of the originals.
There were around 30 different articles that were needed from various publications, ranging from the well-known Wall Street Journal and New York Times, to smaller players such as the Colorado Springs Gazette and the St. Louis Post.
I figured that locating these articles would be as simple as contacting the publications, and just asking for a copy.
I reasonably assumed that there would be some sort of cost associated with getting these copies, but that was to be expected.
What I was not bargaining for was just how difficult it would be to locate the articles I was searching for, and how many hoops I would have to jump through in order to get copies of them.
After several weeks of going down various rabbit holes, only to come up empty-handed, I finally found the answers I was looking for — as well as some knowledge to bestow upon you.
Now, I could just hand over my newfound knowledge, but that would be robbing you of the opportunity to experience a little bit of my roller coaster of a journey in obtaining this information.
Instead, take a walk with me through my wild goose chase of hunting for old magazine and newspaper articles.
The First Step: Checking the Publications’ Online Archives
Oh, how naïve I was!
There I sat, staring haughtily at my computer screen, as I typed “Wall Street Journal Archives” into my Google browser.
Clicking on the “news article archives” link for The Wall Street Journal, I soon discovered that this was not going to be as easy as I had so loftily believed.
This website probably would have been exactly what I needed, if only I were looking for articles from earlier this year, or even three years ago.
That was not the case.
No, the articles I was trying to find were from 30 years ago.
And while the Wall Street Journal site does allow you to search for old articles, it only has the capability to go back to 2010.
I repeated these steps with The New York Times, Business Week, and Fortune Magazine, only to be told the same basic answer: “We do not house copies of our publication going back that far.”
Suddenly, I found myself heading back to the drawing board.
My ego was slightly bruised, but I still believed myself to be quite clever. After all, how hard could it really be?
Step Two: Trying Third Party Archive Websites
Once again, visiting my old friend Google, I searched for “how to get old copies of newspapers.”
I felt my excitement rise, as I clicked on the link for a site that promised to deliver articles dating back to 1739.
Surely this site would be the answer!
While I was able to locate a few of the smaller publications that were on my wish list here, the bigger players such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were still playing hard to get.
It was apparent that I was going to have to up my game.
Step Three: Calling the Publications Directly
Fighting the introvert in me, who generally tries to avoid talking on the phone, I forced myself to dial the number for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Three rings later, I found myself on the line with a lovely gentleman who informed me that licensing and reprints for the WSJ (and many of the other publications) were handled through the Dow Jones reprint and licensing department.
The kind man directed me to a website, where I was instructed to enter the information individually for each of the publications I was trying to get. I was then promised that someone with the reprint and licensing department would be contacting me soon.
So, I waited.
A few days later, an email from Dow Jones magically appeared in my inbox.
My anticipation soon waned, as I read through the first sentence: “Dow Jones Reprint and Licensing does not offer single article reprints, rather we offer reprints for bulk distribution.”
Bulk distribution — of at least 500 copies!
What would I do with 500 copies?!? And how much would that cost?!?
There had to be an easier way!
Putting The Wall Street Journal aside for a minute, I dialed up the number for The New York Times, hoping for a more positive response.
In turn, I was sent on another expedition to seek the publications through PARS International, which I learned was another big-wig in the reprint and licensing game.
Once again, after the tedious task of entering the information for each of the articles I was searching for, I waited for some good news to come.
And it came. They had my articles!
PARS International could provide a PDF of each article to me for only $100 — per article. That fee only covered the actual copy, and did not include the $500 per article fee that had to be paid for licensing and copyright purposes.
Thirty some articles, at $600 a pop!
This was turning into quite the expensive venture — especially since I was not allowed to even view the PDF copies of the articles before placing my pricey order.
This was just not a viable option. I had to find a better way…
Step Four: Contacting Independent Publishing Firms
Taking a break from the pricey third-party licensing companies, I decided to try my luck with independent publishers.
After playing a week-long game of phone tag with various publishing firms, I finally got a response.
They were unable to help me, due to not having a relationship with any of the publishers in question.
Grasping for straws, I begged them to point me in the right direction. Noting my desperation, they recommended that I try contacting the Copywrite Clearance Center (CCC).
Willing to try anything at this point, I located the information for the CCC.
As had become the expectation, I was directed to a website, which instructed me to input the information for the articles I desired.
After opening an account and submitting my requests, I again found myself waiting for some kind of break.
Two days later, the break came.
“We found it! Now download it.”
Those words were so enticing. I was just a click away, plus a fee of $23.77, from the articles that had been eluding me for so long.
As I clicked my mouse on the “download” button, I thought I had finally achieved my goal.
My victory, however, was fleeting.
While the article had indeed been found, it was not at all what I was searching for. The words were there, but they were just words.
It looked as though someone had just typed out the content from the article, instead of presenting me with an actual copy of the article as published.
I was looking for this:
But got this:
Upon contacting the CCC again, I was informed that the actual copy was not available. This was the best that they could do for me.
I shook my head in disbelief. Somehow, I was back to where I started.
Step Five: Moving on to Online Sellers
By this time, my stubborn determination had kicked in.
I would not be defeated.
My old friend Google seemed to stare me in the face, daring me to try again.
My mind was racing. Where else could I look?
I searched through Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy, to no avail. All three sites had a large array of collectible newspapers and magazines, but none of the ones I needed.
I even checked with sites advertising that they could send you any newspaper from the day you were born.
As promising as that sounded, I soon read through the fine print and saw that for the small fee of $49.99 they would send you the closest match to the paper you were looking for.
Closest matches were not going to cut it. I needed a guarantee.
Step Six: Flashing Back to my Childhood at the Library
Digging deep into my theatrical roots, I tried some method acting. I tried to BE the newspapers.
“If I were an old copy of a newspaper, where would I live?” I found myself asking.
Just then, it came to me — like a beam of light, shining through a dark curtain of clouds.
I had it!
The library!! Of course!
Why had I not thought of that before?!?
As a child who spent hours upon hours weeding through the public library’s microfilm collection for school projects, how did I not think of this earlier?
Had I become so accustomed to the digital age that I had forgotten about the painstaking steps we used to have to go through to complete a research paper?
Pushing those traumatic memories aside, I quickly searched for libraries that housed copies of old publications. The first result to pop up was “Harvard.” Of course, how could it be any other?
Dialing up the Harvard library, I soon found myself confronted with yet another challenge. I was not a Harvard student or staff member. I did not have an esteemed “Harvard Key,” which was required for me to access their archives.
Seeing how I did not have the time, or the SAT scores, to quickly enroll in Harvard, I searched again.
Scrolling past the names of other Ivy League schools, that I was sure would also deny me access to their exclusive archives, I finally saw it: the New York Public Library!
They HAD to house old copies of newspapers, right? After all, it’s the New York Public Library.
I attempted to search their website for the articles, but was prompted to enter my library card number, which I did not have.
Again, ignoring my dislike for making phone calls, I dialed up the number for the library.
The phone rang twice, and was then answered by an angel named Jane.
Jane had the raspy voice of someone who had likely been smoking for most of her life, and the telltale east coast accent for which New Yorkers are so well known.
Explaining my dilemma to my new best friend Jane, she quickly eased my pains.
Not only did the New York Public Library have the articles I had been searching the ends of the earth for, they also provided a service to locate those files.
Now, if my journey had taught me anything it was that nothing is as easy as I assume it will be.
Challenging Jane’s answers, I asked her if I needed to be a library member to have access. I was elated to hear that I, a non-library card holding citizen, had the same rights as those who held the illustrious card.
Jane gave me the website address, assuring me that she would be there for me if I had any further questions.
I went to the site and put in the requests for the remaining articles that I was still trying to locate. After providing my credit card information, and authorizing them to charge me $25 for the service, I waited in anxious anticipation.
Less than 24 hours later, the email arrived.
I held my breath.
Was this finally the moment? Was this the end of my treacherous journey?
There it was.
Never had I seen such a beautiful PDF.
After weeks of searching, and endless dead-ends, I had finally located copies of the articles I needed.
It was such a simple solution, yet it took so much work to arrive there.
And while I still have nightmares of searching high and low for newspaper articles, I can rest easy knowing that I now have the answers and can hopefully prevent others from having to go through the struggle of locating old publications.