This is a self-guided tutorial on using newspapers and magazines as primary sources for historical research. The tutorial comprises a short introduction, followed by a series of exercises. In this regard, the tutorial follows the approach described by Aristotle in book two of his Nicomachean Ethics: what we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.1
As history students, you use primary sources to document, as accurately as possible, past events or phenomena. Depending on your research question, newspapers and magazines might form part of the source base for your topic. Newspapers and magazines are not always primary sources, nor are they always the best sources for establishing what happened in the past. When they are appropriate primary sources, however, it's important that you avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions, or making false assumptions, about a source's reliability. This tutorial will help you avoid making those mistakes by teaching you how to look at newspapers and magazines critically and analytically.
You are probably already familiar with newspapers and magazines, but the purpose of this tutorial is to help you distance yourself from whatever assumptions you make about them. You will learn how to describe the different parts of newspapers and magazines. (Imagine trying to describe a baseball game without knowing the names of the different positions, or their purposes.) You will learn how to talk about newspapers precisely, using the correct terminology for their different parts, and learning how those different parts can help you evaluate them as primary sources.
The tutorial comprises a series of activities that guide you through the process of examining newspaper and magazine articles, and evaluating them for reliability, accuracy, currency, and bias. After you complete this tutorial, you should be able to look at a magazine or newspaper article, describe its different parts precisely, understand what information those parts are meant to convey to the reader, and, most importantly, make an informed judgment as to how accurately it documents the historical event or phenomenon you are researching.
Finally, the exercises will give you a chance to see both the advantages and disadvantages of working with digitized surrogates for print-based historical artifacts. All of the articles in these exercises were originally issued in print, and are presented here in digitized versions.
1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Sarah Broadie and Christopher Rowe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002),111.
They’re all over your Facebook feed, and for good reason. Personal essays by popular authors and novices alike are relatable, engrossing reads.
Sometimes, their heart-wrenching reflections stay with you for days.
For reporters or academics, it can be hard to step back from research rituals and write from personal experience. But a personal essay can endear you to an audience, bring attention to an issue, or simply provide comfort to a reader who’s “been there.”
“Writing nonfiction is not about telling your story,” says Ashley C. Ford, an essayist who emphasized the importance of creating a clear connection between your personal experience and universal topics. “It’s about telling interesting and worthy stories about the human condition using examples from your life.”
But don’t worry if your life doesn’t seem exciting or heart-wrenching enough to expound upon; think of it as writing through yourself, instead of about yourself. “There are few heroes and even fewer villains in real life,” she said. “If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.”
Where to submit your personal essays
Once you’ve penned your essay, which publications should you contact? We’ve all heard of — and likely submitted to — The New York Times’ Modern Love column, but that’s not the only outlet that accepts personal narratives.
“Submit to the places you love that publish work like yours,” Ford advises, but don’t get caught up in the size of the publication. And “recognize that at small publications you’re way more likely to find someone with the time to really help you edit a piece.”
To help you find the right fit, we’ve compiled a list of 20 publications that accept essay submissions, as well as tips on how to pitch the editor, who to contact and, whenever possible, how much the outlet pays.
We’d love to make this list even more useful, so if you have additional ideas or details for these publications or others, please leave them below in the comments!
1. Boston Globe
The Boston Globe Magazine Connections section seeks 650-word first-person essays on relationships of any kind. It pays, though how much is unclear. Submit to email@example.com with “query” in the subject line.
Must-read personal essay: “Duel of the Airplane-Boarding Dawdlers,” by Art Sesnovich
2. Extra Crispy
Send your pitches about breakfast, brunch, or the culture of mornings to firstname.lastname@example.org or the editor of the section you’re pitching. Pay appears to be around 40 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: Gina Vaynshteyn’s “When Dumplings Are Resistance”
3. Dame Magazine
This publication is aimed at women over 30. “We aim to entertain, inform, and inspire,” the editors note, “But mostly entertain.” Send your pitch to email@example.com. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay:“I Donated My Dead Body to Give My Life Purpose,” By Ann Votaw
4. Full Grown People
Essays — 4,000 words max — should have a “literary quality.” Include your work in the body of your email to make it easy for the editor to review, and send to firstname.lastname@example.org. No pay.
Must-read personal essay:“Call My Name” by Gina Easley.
Want to write for this Jewish parenting site? To submit, email email@example.com with “submission” somewhere in the subject line. Include a brief bio, contact information, and your complete original blog post of 700 words max. Suggested word count is 500-700 words. The site pays $25 per post.
Must-read personal essay: B.J. Epstein’s “How I’m Trying to Teach Charity to My Toddler”
6. Luna Luna
A progressive, feminist magazine that welcomes all genders to submit content. Email your pitch or full submission. There’s no pay, but it’s a supportive place for a first-time essayist.
Must-read personal essay: “My Body Dysmorphia, Myself” by Joanna C. Valente
7. New Statesman
This U.K. magazine has a helpful contributor’s guide. Unsolicited submissions, while rarely accepted, are paid; if an editor likes your pitch, you’ll hear back in 24 hours.
Must-read personal essay: “The Long Ride to Riyadh,” by Dave Eggers
8. The New York Times
The popular Modern Love feature accepts submissions of 1,700 words max at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a Word attachment, but also paste the text into your message. Consult the Times’ page on pitching first, and like Modern Love on Facebook for even more insight. Rumor has it that a successful submission will earn you $250. (Correction added Oct. 9, 2014: Payment is $300, The New York Times writes on its Facebook page.)
Amy Sutherland’s column, “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage,” which ran in 2006, landed her a book contract with Random House and a movie deal with Lionsgate, which is in preproduction. “I never saw either coming,” Sutherland said.
Another option is the Lives column in the New York Times Magazine. To submit, email email@example.com.
Must-read personal essay: “When a Couch is More Than a Couch” by Nina Riggs
Salon accepts articles and story pitches to the appropriate section with “Editorial Submission” in the subject line and the query/submission in the body of the email. Include your writing background or qualifications, along with links to three or four clips.
“I was compensated $150 for my essay,” says Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, “but that was several years ago. All in all, working with the editor there was a great experience.” Who Pays Writers reports average pay of about 10 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “I Fell in Love with a Megachurch,” by Alexis Grant
Indicate the section you’re pitching and “article submission” in your subject line, and send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Average reported pay is about 23 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: Justin Peters’ “I Sold Bill Murray a Beer at Wrigley Field”
Each print issue has a specific cultural theme and welcomes both fiction and nonfiction. Stories and essays of 5,000 words max earn up to $250. Review periods are limited, so check their submission guidelines to make sure your work will be read with the next issue in mind. Submit online.
Must-read personal essay: “Fire Island,” by Christopher Locke
12. The Billfold
The Billfold hopes to make discussing money less awkward and more honest. Send your pitch to email@example.com. Who Pays Writers notes a rate of about 3 cents per word, but this writer would consider the experience and exposure to be worth the low pay.
Must-read personal essay: “The Story of a F*** Off Fund,” by Paulette Perhach
Motherwell seeks parenting-related personal essay submissions of up to 1200 words. Submit a full piece; all contributors are paid.
Must-read personal essay: “The Length of the Pause” by Tanya Mozias Slavin
14. The Bold Italic
This publication focuses on California’s Bay Area. Strong POV and a compelling personal writing style are key. Pay varies. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Must-read personal essay: “The San Francisco Preschool Popularity Contest,” by Rhea St. Julien
Submit essays of 800-2000 words to this lifestyle site geared toward women. Pay averages about 5 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “Is Picky Eating An Eating Disorder?” by Kaleigh Roberts
16. The Rumpus
Focuses on essays that “intersect culture.” Submit finished essays online in the category that fits best. Wait three months before following up.
Must-read personal essay: “Not a Widow” by Michelle Miller
17. The Penny Hoarder
This personal-finance website welcomes submissions that discuss ways to make or save money. Read the guidelines before emailing your submission. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: “This Family’s Drastic Decision Will Help Them Pay Off $100K in Debt in 5 Years” by Maggie Moore
18. Tin House
Submit a story or essay of 10,000 words max in either September or March. Wait six days before emailing to check the status of your submission. Cover letters should include a word count and indicate whether the submission is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
Must-read personal essay: “More with Less,” by Rachel Yoder
Narratively accepts pitches and complete pieces between 1,000 and 2,000 words that tell “original and untold human stories.” Pay averages 6 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “What Does a Therapist Do When She Has Turmoil of Her Own?” by Sherry Amatenstein
Still looking for ideas? Meghan Ward’s blog post, “20 Great Places to Publish Personal Essays,” is worth perusing. MediaBistro also offers a section called How to Pitch as part of their AvantGuild subscription, which has an annual fee of $55.
This post originally ran in October 2014. We updated it in December 2016.
Have other ideas or details to add? Share with us in the comments!