By RAY MURRAY and GEORGIA HIGLEY
The Serial and Government Publications Division's first digital project is the World War I newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. The 71 issues that comprise the complete run of the newspaper were digitized and made searchable using techniques only recently developed at the Library of Congress. The newspaper's journalistic excellence and its importance as the first American military newspaper intended for troops deployed abroad make it a significant addition to the American Memory digital collection.
The Stars and Stripes is Born
On Friday, Feb. 8, 1918, The Stars and Stripes reported for active duty with a thousand- copy print run; it was a weekly that would span 17 months and ultimately reach over half a million subscribers by the end of the war.
Gen. John J. Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), summed up the newspaper's mission in his greeting to the troops that appeared on the front page of the first issue: "The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American Army and the American people from whom the Army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it."
The newspaper was intended to strengthen morale and unify the AEF troops who were dispersed along the allied front (by the end of the war more than 4 million Americans would serve in the AEF). Published exclusively in France using the plant of the London Daily Mail's continental edition, with paper supplied by La Societé Anonyme des Papeteries Darblay, it used a layout typical of the American newspaper of the day—plentiful illustrations, wide columns and broad headlines—and included content familiar to the doughboys, with headline news, sports, political cartoons and letters to the editor.
The Stars and Stripes was welcomed by the American soldier because of its similarity to a hometown newspaper as well as its coverage of fellow soldiers and the latest news from the front. The doughboys admired its independent editorial spirt and lively, slightly irreverent tone.
"It is the snappiest and most vigorous paper I have seen, and reflects the spirit of the A.E.F. at the front, in training, and en route," wrote Private Meyer Agen in a letter to the editor.
"Your paper has the real American jump!" commented Charles H. Grasty.
Despite the inevitable censorship of wartime, The Stars and Stripes was an independent newspaper due to its origins as a morale booster and because of the support it received from the highest levels of the AEF. The staff of the paper considered themselves answerable only to the troops for whom they were writing.
Primarily the work of enlisted personnel, the newspaper was staffed by experienced journalists, editors and cartoonists. All of the staff members spent time at the front, however, in order to better serve their primary audience, the enlisted man. As their self-reported history, published in the newspaper's final issue dated June 13, 1919, noted: "They knew what the enlisted man of the A.E.F. wanted and that, by the shade of George Washington's spurs, they were going to give it to him. Give it to him they did then, going out amongst him as often as they could to find out at first hand what he wanted, what got his goat in the Army, and what didn't."
Cartoonists Abian A. "Wally" Wallgren and Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge got their inspiration from numerous trips to the front. Alexander Woollcott, New York Times drama critic from 1914-1922, was one of the paper's chief war correspondents and often reported directly from the battlefield. Many staff members went on to prominent careers (managing editor Harold Ross co-founded The New Yorker) following the war, leading one writer later to reflect that the newspaper was a "hotbed of future fame."
The Stars and Stripes also received material from the doughboys themselves. In addition to the customary letters to the editor, poetry and essays written by soldiers were important parts of the paper. The newspaper also presented regulations and general orders in ways the frontline soldier could understand—through cartoons, helpful hints and diagrams—and often received its copy before official channels distributed them to commanding officers. Staff also encouraged humanitarian efforts, spearheading an orphan project, for example, that resulted in thousands of French children being adopted by individual soldiers and military units to ensure their well-being, and fostering letter-writing campaigns for Mothers Day. Cartoons and commonsense articles helped to explain health bulletins. Even the necessary activities of the censorship office were described with humor.
The Stars and Stripes devised a rail, truck and automobile delivery system, using soldier distributors, local news dealers and hospitality centers of the YMCA and the American Red Cross—all in an effort to reach every soldier every week, "mud, shell-holes and fog notwithstanding" according to its inaugural issue. With the exception of copies mailed stateside to military bases and individual subscribers, most soldiers received the latest issue within 24 hours of publication. Copies were shared by subscribers, some even making their way to families and friends outside the military.
Beloved by the troops of World War I, The Stars and Stripes was considered one of the American successes of the war. Its inclusion in the American Memory digital collection is an important addition to primary source material on World War I. The techniques used to create the digital collection represent an enhancement to the site as well.
Creating the Digital Collection
Very few original issues of The Stars and Stripes exist because of the difficulty of acquiring and preserving newspapers during the conflict. However, in 1920 the AEF Publishing Association in Minneapolis produced a bound volume containing facsimile reproductions of each page of the World War I edition. The Library of Congress owns two bound copies of the 1920 facsimile edition and a master negative microfilm copy of that edition. The majority of the images in the online collection were produced from this microfilm as part of an experiment by the Serial and Government Publications Division to develop techniques for expanding access to microfilmed newspapers.
Putting a newspaper collection online presents technical and conceptual challenges. It requires examination of the browsing and searching needs of newspaper researchers and making decisions about displaying pages on a computer screen less than half the size of the original paper.
Historians use newspapers to document the day-by-day atmosphere of a given time. The more personal slice-of-life details, however, are often buried several paragraphs deep within articles. Genealogists also use newspapers to look for names that are often not in the headlines but rather several paragraphs deep within individual articles.
Because of these types of uses, the division decided that the newspaper collection should be full-text searchable. Due to the large amount of text, the most feasible plan employed optical character recognition (OCR) software.
OCR is a fully automated process that converts the visual image of numbers and letters into computer-readable numbers and letters. Computer software can easily search the OCR text; however, if the original item has extraneous markings, unusual text styles or very small fonts, the resulting output will contain errors. These unavoidable errors were left uncorrected in the OCR text for The Stars and Stripes. Even so, the OCR text is still highly useful in providing search access to the items. For example, important concept words will often be repeated more than once within an article. If the OCR misreads one instance of a word but correctly reads the second instance, that passage will still be found in a full-text search.
Creating a New Viewer
Newspapers are understood by virtue of their page layout as well as by their textual content. More important stories appear higher on the page ("above the fold") and have a larger font for their headline. To see editorial information like that, it is useful to view the whole page at once. However, the text is too small to read at that scale on a computer screen.
The solution developed for The Stars and Stripes was to create a viewer that displays the full-page view on the left side of the screen, with a zoomed-in view on the right. A red box on the full-page view indicates which part of the page is being displayed by the zoomed-in view.
Clicking anywhere on the full-page navigator view relocates the zoom view. Controls allow the user to turn the pages or skip to the next issue. This new viewer conveys the important contextual information about newspaper layout while making efficient use of the real estate of the computer screen.
"The Stars and Stripes: the American Soldiers Newspaper of World War I, 1918-1919" is available at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/sgphtml/sashtml/sashome.html. In addition to the newspaper itself, the Web site includes special presentations describing the newspaper and its creators.
Ray Murray is a digital conversion specialist.