Why Writers Should Read Newspapers

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 | 12 comments

Why Writers Should Read Newspapers

Great ideas from Sandra Ardoin about gathering story ideas from the newspaper! Enjoy!



Wandering Wednesdays

Newspapers can be a valuable research tool. While I’m writing the following from the viewpoint of a historical writer, most of the tips can apply for those who create contemporary stories.


Over the past few years libraries, historical societies, and archives from thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have contributed to a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress to form a national database that makes historic newspapers public. That database can be found on the Chronicling America website.


Since these organizations submit digitized issues to Chronicling America, not all newspapers are listed on the site. The available dates range from 1836 to 1922, though there are search mechanisms for finding additional papers in various archives. Search by date or keyword.


To illustrate some tidbits of what you’ll find and reasons why searching newspapers will add authenticity and uniqueness to your story, I’ll use examples from one page of an actual newspaper found on Chronicling America: The Madisonian from Richmond, Kentucky, February 3, 1914.


  • Story Ideas – Has your well run dry? Do you need something to stir your imagination? Try this headline: “Post Office Robbed at Crab Orchard.” Twelve hundred dollars in money and stamps were stolen from the post office after nitroglycerin was used to blow the safe. No one heard the explosions because the perpetrators used mail bags to muffle the sound. It was assumed the robbers got away on an early train. But what if the thieves didn’t blow the safe for the money? What if there was something in the post office they wanted or wanted to destroy, something incriminating, perhaps. Who? What? Why? When (it could happen today)? Historical and contemporary writers, are the creative juices flowing?
  • Cultural/Social Attitudes – On Wednesday, Edward Baxter Perry gave a highly touted classical programme and lecture to a “large and cultured audience.” On Sunday, Dr. E. B. Barnes sermonized on “Marriage and Misery” at the Christian church and expressed his view that those who were miserable in their union should be allowed to divorce through the civil courts. The next week he would preach on “Marriage and Happiness.”
  • Weather/Farming Reports – Unlike today, most early newspapers did not have an official section for weather reports and forecasted temperatures. However, sometimes we’re given an indication of the weather through a particular article. A small paragraph about the groundhog seeing his shadow advised people to look out for “squalls, bursted water pipes, and plumber’s bills.”
  • Political News Both Local and National – Presidential executive orders have been in our news quite a bit in recent months.The Madisonian ran a paragraph stating that President Wilson signed an executive order for a permanent government for the Panama Canal Zone and gave the person he named as the first civil governor.
  • Prices – A three-line tidbit advertised signs for sale through the newspaper. Available were “For Sale,” “For Rent,” and “Furnished Rooms for Rent.” Prices for the cards were ten and fifteen cents.


Here are some additional facts I’ve uncovered in the past while looking through old newspapers:·


  • Railroad schedules that have come in handy when I want a character to travel from one location to another
  • The yearly subscription cost of a newspaper
  • Advertisements for various businesses and products (including the infamous patent medicines)
  • Period names/Terms/Turns of Phrase
  • Businesses of the day and some of the goods they carried, along with prices
  • Jokes and humor of the period
  • Parenting/Marriage Advice


Even if you’re writing a contemporary story, scour the newspapers in the vicinity of your setting for little tidbits that make your story come alive. It could be local businesses or products, parks, local government, etc.


Do you regularly check newspapers (old and new) for facts and ideas for your stories? Have you found something interesting that hasn’t been mentioned above?



Book Blurb:

It’s Christmastime in 1890s Meadowmead, and someone is venturing out at night to leave packages at the homes of the The Yuletide Angelneedy. Dubbed The Yuletide Angel, no one knows the identity of this mysterious benefactor.

No one, except Hugh Barnes, a confirmed bachelor who finds himself drawn to the outwardly shy but inwardly bold Violet Madison, a young woman who risks her safety to help others.

When Violet confesses her fear of eviction from her childhood home, Hugh longs to rescue her. His good intentions are thwarted, however, when Hugh’s estranged brother shows up in town … and in Violet’s company.

But Violet faces an even bigger threat. A phantom figure lurks in the shadows, prepared to clip the wings of The Yuletide Angel.




About the author:

Sandra ArdoinSandra Ardoin is a multi-published author of short fiction who writes inspirational historical romance. Her Christmas novella, The Yuletide Angel, released in October 2014. She’s the married mother of a young adult and lives in North Carolina.

Visit her at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Sign up for her newsletter.




  1. Thanks for an excellent resource! Will also definitely check out “The Yuletide Angel”. Happy New Year!

    • Thank you, Felicia. Newspapers are fascinating, even for pleasure reading.

      Please do check out The Yuletide Angel, and I thank you! 🙂

  2. I recently found some old newspapers from the small town my dad grew up in. They reported lots of fun thing – like who had Sunday dinner with out of town guests – my dad had no idea he was in the paper so often. 🙂

    • I love reading old newspapers like that! Such a wealth of information! Thanks for commenting!

    • I love that Joy. I’ve always called those types of snippets the Who Poured news.

  3. Our local county newspaper has a weekly “from the archives” piece. They have a 10 years ago, 50 years ago and 100 years ago snippets. it’s one of my favourite things to read.

    • Thanks for taking time to comment and adding some helpful information!

    • Yes, I’ve seen those in newspapers before. So nostalgic! And I love the names you read. Some are ancestors of current friends and acquaintances.

  4. Newspapers are a fabulous resource for many of the reasons you’ve pointed out. As a suspense writer I find much of what I put in my stories comes directly from the headlines. Great post!

    • Thanks for visiting, Natalie!

    • I can definitely see how newspapers help you. I love adding a thread of mystery/suspense to my stories and think even current news can be reworked and applied to a historical setting (taking into consideration the differences in inventions and technology, of course). 🙂 People have been committing many of the same crimes throughout history. I once read of a murdered child being discovered in a haystack (1800s paper). Today, that kind of crime is one of the greatest fears of a parent.

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