Media literature review guide: How to conduct a literature review of news sources

Use this guide if you are conducting a literature review of news sources on a certain topic, and need help locating a sample of news sources for your analysis.  For example:

  • BC newspaper articles covering RCMP sexual harassment claims over the past ten years
  • Newspaper, online news website and TV news stories reporting on the marijuana 4/20 event in 2007 and later in 2017.
For information on where to find news articles in general (for instance, a particular article from the Vancouver Sun), please view News resources: Finding newspaper articles and newspapers. Or, go straight to our simple list of News sources databases.

First steps: Questions to ask, key things to keep in mind

Ask yourself:

  1. Geography: Are there any geographic parameters to your news search (e.g., specific city or cities, provinces or countries of news sources)?
  2. Time frame: Are you searching within a specific time range, or at least before or after a particular day?
  3. News format: What news media types are you interested in (online news content, newspapers, etc.)?

A few things key things to keep in mind:

  • Older newspaper content (1990s and earlier) may not be digitized yet.  A common exception is the digitization of much older newspaper content, such as the Globe and Mail Canada, which provides coverage from 1844. There is often a large digitization gap between the historical content and more recent news content. Alternative access may be available through SFU Library's microfilm collection.
  • There are both free and library subscription news archives available. There is often overlapping coverage between the free and subscription sources.
  • SFU library subscribes to several online news sources, also known as "subscription news sources", which may provide more reliable and comprehensive archival content.

Sources by media type

Online news

News websites

Examples: CBC, Vancouver Sun, The Wall Street Journal

You can go directly to a commercial news website and search the site for its news archives.

A few things to note about general news websites:

  • Archival content is limited and not comprehensive
  • Extent of archival coverage is usually unknown/undocumented
  • Links to older news stories may come and go, and older versions may have been edited
  • Links may be unstable
  • Bonus: Associated images are typically archived along with the article

Archival websites

Example: The Internet Archive

You may be able to obtain archival content through third party websites, which independently and intermittently scrape commercial web content for archiving.

Notes on archival websites:

  • The Internet Archive scrapes a vast amount of web content for archiving (about 286 billion + web pages). Paste the newspaper's URL (e.g., into the search bar to see which news web pages have been archived.
  • Note that the Internet Archive only archives a sample of pages from news websites, and therefore does not provide complete historical coverage of a news source.
  • View the News & Public Affairs section of the Internet Archives for new collections by topic (e.g., "The Iraq War Collection"). Collections are primarily American.


Library subscription news sources

Examples: Canadian Newsstream, CBCA, Factiva

SFU Library subscribes to a number of news databases which systematically archive news sources from both traditional print newspapers, and online and other media news sources. 

Notes on subscription news sources:

  • Offers a much more comprehensive searching of backfiles; extent of historical coverage explicitly outlined
  • Can search multiple news sources at once by various filters, for instance, all Canadian newspapers
  • Smaller Canadian newspapers can be included in your search (e.g., Burnaby Now)
  • Many of the articles found in these specialized databases will also show up in a general library catalogue search. However, going to the directly to the subscription database allows for much more targeted searching
  • Some of these databases also archive scholarly journals, so be sure to set your search limiters so that newspapers are in your results
  • Accompanying newspapers images are unfortunately not found in some library subscription news sources
  • Note that you may find multiple versions of one article found across different news sources. This relates to how press releases are distributed, as well as how media conglomerations share and modify content.
  • Some of these databases are more complicated to use, but offer a more powerful and robust search in exchange for your efforts

Archived broadcast/TV news

Original audio-visual broadcasts

Examples: CTV National News, The National with Peter Mansbridge, PBS Newshour


  • It is very challenging to find older, archived broadcast/TV news, as publicly available archival sources are limited.
  • Some news archives focus on news originally broadcast through cable television, while others aim to capture news stories broadcast on the internet ("born digital").
  • Television companies may have their own private archives of news footage, not readily available to the public.
  • SFU Library does not currently have a subscription to any broadcast news archives.

Some resources:

The Internet Archive's TV News archive includes extensive archived video material, mostly from the US. Advanced search by news program and network is available. Keyword searching searches closed captions. Coverage begins around 2009.

CBC Archives incorporates news, images, and audio files from across Canada in its extensive archives. Select items are exhibited on a changing basis. Coverage may include news stories, such as 1993: World Trade Centre Bombed. Users can also explore the CBC Archives Sales website for items to purchase.

Vanderbilt News Archive is a searchable, private database of broadcast news, but is unfortunately not free nor available through SFU library. Materials may be loaned, arriving through the mail in a hardcopy format.

YouTube It's possible a particular news broadcast was uploaded to YouTube.

Broadcast news transcripts

Transcripts may be available from prior broadcast news stories. These are a possible alternative to finding the original broadcast in audio-visual format.

The following SFU databases contain some transcripts.

Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database
Under "Document type", select "transcript". Run a search and then narrow by source and add keywords. Extensive transcripts are available for The National (CBC television), Canada AM (CTV television), and others.

Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text

Canadian Newsstream
Under "Document type", select "transcript". Run a search and then narrow by source and add keywords. Extensive transcripts are available for The National (CBC television), Canada AM (CTV television), and others.

​Nexis Uni
Includes transcripts from about 123 (mostly American) news broadcasts such as ABC, BBC, NPR, Fox News Network, and CNN.

Factiva (see image below for search instructions)
An international collection of news broadcast transcripts in a variety of languages.

Finding transcripts in Factiva:

  • 1. Expand the option of searching Sources, by clicking on the small arrow next to that word. This will open up a drop-down menu with the option to select source category By Type. Choose this option. 2. Transcripts will appear as an option. Expand this category to see the option of Transcripts: Broadcast.

finding transcripts in factiva


Google News will find articles related to your topic from a variety of sources.

  • The scope of Google's news coverage, while appealingly very broad, is also very unknown. This significantly limits efforts toward systematic searching.
  • Google News offers an advanced search option. Click on the tiny arrow in the Google search box to access (see below image).
    • Advanced search allows you to search by particular news source or web domain. For instance, you can run a search for Vancouver Sun or for the web site
  • News trends can be found under the "Top Stories" section. 

advanced search arrow on google news screen

Searching news sources methodically

It's effective to plan your search before you tackle the databases and to track the databases you search, as well as the terms that you use. Follow these steps for effective research;

Write down a sentence describing the topic of your search

Compared to corporate media, alternative media offers vastly different frames on the impact climate change has on jobs within the petroleum industry.

Identify the key concepts in your topic

Compared to corporate media, alternative media offers vastly different frames on the impact climate change has on jobs within the petroleum industry.

Brainstorm synonyms or related terms for these key concepts

  • You may need to do some background reading to identify pertinent terminology.
  • Group the terms that relate to one of your key concepts. Your key concepts can be as specific as corporate names or as broad as the industry. Keep adding or deleting key concepts as you search.

Track research: search terms, search expressions, databases

Track the terms that you use to search, using an Excel spreadsheet or other record, grouping them by concept, noting definitions. As you find literature, you will add to this list of terms.

Select an appropriate database for your search

  • To choose an appropriate news database, consider the nature of your research:​
    • Are you researching coverage in "mainstream" sources? Or are you looking for coverage from an "alternative" perspective?
    • What is the scope of the specific news database? Does it provide geographical and chronological coverage suitable for your search? Do all the news source have to be Canadian? If YES, you might consider whether you should limit at the outset or when evaluating your results.
    • Many databases enable you to include a publication date range, in order to focus your search on a specific time period.

Review your search results

  • Analyze your results in order to assess and modify your search terms or search statement.
  • You can use the database limiters to scope your results according to subject, publication, etc. For example, focus on the news before and after a pivotal event, by time period, by figuring out the correct terminology, and so on.

Consider whether you need to focus your search, by date, by publication, or other parameters

  • The database may enable you to limit your search terms to particular segments of the news story, such as the headline / title and the lead paragraph / abstract. Most news stories follow the "inverted triangle" writing approach, with the most important information found in the first paragraph; this can help you focus your search.
    • TIP: If you are receiving too many off-topic results, try searching for your keywords in just the article title field.
  • Similarly, consider whether your research would be improved by concentrating on particular types of news stories, such as editorials, opinion, columns, sports, etc.

Capture your results, either by emailing them to yourself or saving to a file

You will need to support your nomination with documentation of your research.

For more information on how to write a literature review, take a look at the Student Learning Commons' resource Academic writing: What is a literature review?

And, of course, watch out for signs of fake news.

How to do news content analysis


Saving, exporting, and citing news from websites/databases

There are a number of free citation management software and tools available for students through SFU. Use one of the citation managers  to export and save articles. When you are looking at articles found through the SFU database, there will be options to "save" the article through citation managers such as Mendeley or Zotero.

Depending on which citation style you are using, the SFU citation & style guides explain how to cite news articles and other document types.

Additional research help

Ask a Librarian

Related SFU resource guides

See News resources: Finding newspaper articles and newspapers to help find newspaper articles and newspapers.