Sunday, June 05, 2016

Delivering old newspapers to a good home

For years, B.H. and his family had stored old keepsakes in their attic. After years of pledging to do a thorough cleaning out of the space, B.H. finally got around to doing so. The agreement among the family was that if no one claimed the goods being stored, they would be donated, recycled, or in some cases left out for the municipal trash collection.

Boxes of prized notebooks B.H. kept from some favorite college classes, an assortment of slightly mildewed camping equipment, nonworking electric trains he'd picked up at a yard sale years ago and meant to try to fix, and dozens of mismatched coffee mugs found their way out the door.

Tucked in the back of the attic was a box B.H. didn't recognize. When he opened it, he found stacks of old newspapers. At first he thought that he or some other family member had tucked away newspapers on dates when something momentous happened. But on closer inspection, he found that the box was full of at least 40 years' worth of newspapers from the local public high school, starting in the 1930's and going up to the 1970's, years before he and his family had purchased the house.

While the newspapers were from the high school he and his wife had gone to, B.H. had no recollection of where these newspapers came from. Neither did anyone else in his family.

"Did he or one of the kids pick them up at a local garage sale?" he wondered. "Or were these there when they moved into the house and they never noticed them?" The attic is unfinished, dark, and only accessible through a set of pull-down stairs.

Given the completeness of the years accumulated in the box, B.H. didn't know if someone had walked off with some of the school newspaper archives with or without permission.

Since he didn't know where they came from and had no desire to keep them, B.H. wondered what the right thing to do with them was now.

"I don't want to get anyone in trouble, including me, if these were taken without permission," B.H. writes. "But if someone could use these, I'd like to see them used. Or is it OK to simply recycle them to avoid having to face any potential hassles?"

B.H. should trust his instinct to try to get the newspapers to someone or some institution that might find them useful. He can start by asking his local high school's librarians -- or the principal -- if they would like the box of newspapers. If there's a local historical society, it might have interest as well. So might a local library. Trying to get the newspapers back to their place of origin seems worth the effort. B.H. need only tell them that he found the box in his attic and thought they might be of local interest.

If none of those places shows interest, B.H. should feel free to offer them up via a Craigslist ad to see if someone in the community wants them. If none of these efforts works, then offering them up as yard sale items could work. After exhausting these avenues, if B.H. decides to recycle the newspapers, he can do so with the clear conscience that he tried to do the right thing in finding them a good home. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Anonymous said...

The subject of this column goes into contortions to try to find a way not to have given away the items in question. It seems this person went above and beyond to consider any possible reason to have kept the items so I think he was justified in getting rid of the newspapers.

Charlie Seng

Azalea Annie said...

Jeffrey's advice seems right to me: call the local high school's librarians, a local historical society, or a local library. It's possible the pages are already scanned and on file. If not, his donation and the librarian/historian's scanning of the pages could help many people. The pages could be great for high school reunions, family tree information seekers, etc.

Anonymous said...

To try and find a good home for old artifacts is commendable. Once gone, they are gone forever.

As for trouble being a problem, I doubt anyone will even consider this as an option. But in our world of blame, your subject is correct in thinking such. A good judge (as they are) would throw it out should anything get that far.

Take a little time and history will be its reward. Remember the Parthenon and the pyramids could have been road fill.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

Can I skim some books from my friend's donation?

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