(Almost) Everything I Know About Writing Fiction I Learned From the Newspapers

The former Washington Post Publisher Phil Graham once said that journalism is the “first rough draft of history,” and anyone who’s delved into newspaper archives in their local library knows this to be true. But perhaps journalism—and community journalism, in particular—has the potential to be a “first rough draft” of fiction.

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When someone says “you can’t make this stuff up,” it’s because the strangest stuff is oftentimes true. Where else, but in the May 22, 1990, edition of the Lodi (Ca.) News-Sentinel, you can read about the fate of the Lady Flames softball team, or which Muppets sang at Jim Henson’s funeral, or that the theme for the new teen Queen of the International Order of Job’s Daughters, Bethel No. 276, was “A friend, like a star, is a gift of love sent by the Lord from Heaven above.”? Any writer in search of authentic details to build their characters, or to write about a particular era or region, would find what they need in a local newspaper. And as access to print issues wane, many libraries are transferring old issues into digitized and searchable newspaper archives.

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