Newspaper Clippings: Can They Be Saved?

by Sally J.

in * How to PRESERVE Family History Treasures, Free Articles / Blog

"Life in Clippings" by Greencolander

Lisa Louise Cooke and I had an interesting chat about how to preserve newspaper clippings. You get to listen in our conversation because we recorded it for Lisa’s Genealogy Gems podcast. Yay!

Episode 83 is ready and waiting for you. Below are my notes from that talk.

Before we begin our examination of old clippings, I want to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Miriam Midkiff of AnceStories.

Miriam asked me about newspaper clippings so long ago that I’m pretty sure we can now measure that time in years. Egad! A toast to Miriam and her infinite patience!

In case you don’t know already, Miriam is the creator of the wonderful ScanFest — a monthly online meetup/chat for folks who are scanning family treasures. ScanFest is one of the best ways I’ve ever seen to keep a your scanning project on track (big or small).

Bottom line: If you have scanning on your “To Do” list, be sure to check out ScanFest!


What is newsprint?

…and why does it turn yellow and brittle?

I’ll put this as plainly and simply as I can: The paper used in newspapers is bad paper. It is highly acidic and turns brittle in a short amount of time. This process happens even faster when the paper is exposed to UV light.

Even worse than its short life span is the fact that newsprint will damage other materials it comes in contact with. (I know! Isn’t that awful?) The acids will leach out and “burn” photographs, letters, books. Not good.


Can the damage be reversed?

Chemical treatments (usually sprays or baths) can slow down additional deterioration, but sadly there is no way to undo the damage that has already occurred. Keep in mind also that some of these treatments will actually make the paper darker. There is only one way to turn back time and have a creamy white document —  start over by reformatting to a fresh piece of acid free paper.

That’s right. The simplest method is to photocopy onto archival bond paper. But sometimes, you don’t want to lose that authentic original object. How to figure out the right option for you? First you have to answer an important question.

Why are you keeping this newspaper?

When your job is to preserve inherently bad paper, you need to ask yourself some tough questions: Why are you keeping this, exactly? What long term value does it have?

Is it the facts and information that are most important? In the case of the photo above, that would be the genealogical information you can glean from the names of parents listed in the obituary.

Or is the clipping itself an artifact you want to preserve long term? Perhaps the clippings were created and saved by your favorite maternal aunt. Every time you see glue in a brown glass bottle, you think of her.

Which kind of value you assign often has a lot to do with how much newsprint you have to deal with.

KEEPING FOR INFORMATIONAL VALUE: In a large repository it’s not uncommon to have a collection arrive with several cubic feet of clippings. The information is often pulled together from multiple sources, so it can be a real time saver for a researcher. The information is worth keeping, but the bad paper’s gotta go.

What to do? Archives routinely photocopy onto archival bond, include multiple clippings per sheet whenever possible. Toss the bad paper. Relatively inexpensive and simple process. You can buy archival bond in reams just like regular office paper. I recommend acid and lignin free with a 25% cotton rag content. If you don’t have access to a photocopier, I recommend a DIY station at any of the chain copy places. You might need to bring your own paper, and you’ll get a surprisingly small discount for doing that. But on the upside, there is no need to pay for color copies, since black and white is enough. Copy stores usually offer discounts when the total number of copies is high, so this can come out to bargain if you pool clippings with friends.

KEEPING FOR ARTEFACTUAL VALUE: You have an important newspaper clipping you want to keep as-is. What to do? Lucky you! You have a few choices at your disposal:

  • Clippings, Option #1: Put the clipping in an archival plastic folder or sleeve with a sheet of buffered archival paper behind it. If you haven’t de-acidified the newsprint, do not fully encapsulate it, since this will allow the paper to stew in its own juices. Put the polyester folders in file folders and boxes made from archival stock. Store in an area that is cooled in summer and heated in winter and is not overly humid.
  • Clippings, Option #2: De-acidifying via sprays and dips.
  • Entire newspapers: To protect newspapers from light, dust and critters, store them as flat as you can in archival boxes. The best boxes have a full depth lid to keep out dust, and a drop front to make it easy to remove the bottom paper. Try to find a box as close in size as possible to the newspapers you want to protect. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can create inserts from archival board to customize the interior size of the box. Important! Make a list of the contents of each box so you don’t have to paw through them to find out what’s in there.

Handy-dandy links to more information on newspaper preservation:

To hear a discussion about this topic between me and Lisa Louise Cook on her Genealogy Gems Podcast, Episode 83


Photo Credit: “Life in Clippings” by Greencolander, via Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

Sally J. March 15, 2010 at 8:14 pm

@Mark – One of the tricky things about acidic paper is that it continues to leech out acids as it ages. When you put paper in contact with the clipping it will absorb the acid instead of the clipping “stewing” in it within the sleeve.

Buffered paper is treated with either calcium or magnesium carbonate so that it becomes alkaline — the opposite of acidic. You can find this type of paper at archival suppliers like Gaylord or Metal Edge. There are gazillions of sizes available, but you can purchase letter size in reams of 500 sheets for under $20 ->

It’s possible that scrapbook suppliers sell buffered paper, I just don’t know for sure. Acid free and buffered are not the same thing. Acid free can still contain lignins and become acidic over time. Be sure to check the label carefully. You’ll want to see something like “3% Calcium carbonate buffer.”

Sally J. March 15, 2010 at 8:03 pm

An excellent point, @David — and a great reminder for all of us to always write down source information.

In the past when I’ve done research (of the non-genealogical variety), I wrote the citation information on the photocopy and never actually clipped anything out. When I was copying multiple pages from any one source, I would tape down the citation to the photocopier glass at the very top, writing side down. The author and book title were “automagically” added to each copy. Woo hoo! The tape was easily removed when I was done.

David Galbraith March 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm

A great blog posting – but one item is missing. Items should never be clipped from newspapers without at least copying the following onto the clipping:
The name of the newspaper
The date of publication
The page number
– without these identifiers, most newspaper clippings belong under the canary, not in the archives!!
– David

Mark March 15, 2010 at 5:11 am

You mentioned putting clippings in an archival plastic folder with a sheet of buffered archival paper behind it. What does the buffered paper do, and where can you buy paper like this?

Linda K. Gill March 13, 2010 at 7:54 am

Among my mother-in-law’s items were newspaper clippings from more than 50 years ago. As you know, the paper then didn’t deteriorate as quickly . . . so in a sense they are artifacts which I hesitate to toss. However, modern newspapers begin deteriorating in the driveway so I make a copy and toss!

Miriam Robbins Midkiff March 9, 2010 at 8:38 am

Hi, Sally,

Wow! I DO remember asking about this! I think it was because my grandfather had been interviewed in a school district newspaper and I still have the original.

Thanks for all the helpful advice. I’ll be bookmarking this so I can direct others to it. We often get questions like this at Scanfest.

Thanks for the link love, too!

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