I don’t often use my blog as a soap box, but today I must. I married into a newspaper family whose roots run deep in the journalistic history of our nation, but that’s not what has prompted this post today.
Recently I began actively writing a story that started brewing in the fall of 2013. It is a story so complex and intricate, so important to me that I haven’t started writing it until now because I honestly believed I was not ready yet as a writer. I had more learning to do both in the mechanics of writing and in the detail required in historical research for the project, a project I simply refer to as Blake and Beckett. Three years of percolating now finds me drowning in the history of Gilded Age New York City, my head so full of ideas and questions and continuing paths of research that I might spontaneously combust. And in this research, I have found one incredible, priceless, irreplaceable source of information: newspapers.
Newspapers are the first draft of history. They are the ones on the forefront of the evolution of the human race. They are picking up on the day to day trends, the pop culture events, the new fads and old cliches. As a historical author, I rely on newspapers to tell me what was important to readers on that particular day in history. I want to know what my hero or heroine would be worried about when they woke up on March 17, 1883. Newspapers tell me that. Back in the Gilded Age of New York City, members of the Four Hundred (high society) competed for inches in the newspaper. They would compete with each other for the most glamorous parties, the most outlandish homes, cars, yachts, clothes, diamonds….and the list goes on. It is from this competition and the subsequent inches of newspaper column consumed that historical authors everywhere rejoice!
You may argue that in today’s day and age blogs, news aggregates, and TV have taken the place of newspapers, but I disagree with vehemence. Newspapers contain a degree of journalism that remains unmatched. Stories are fact checked, cross checked, vetted, and analyzed. Stories are edited, copy edited, proofread and gone over again. If it doesn’t fit in the news budget, it’s not going in. That story must be worthy, it must be trusted, it must be irrefutably backed up by sources. As a historian, there is no greater resource than that of the newspaper.
So move aside Gawker. (Oops! I guess the courts already took care of that one.) Give me my newspaper. And a cup of coffee would be great.
Act On It
Find your local paper and start subscribing today. Some subscriptions cost less than that non-fat skinny vanilla latte you buy at Starbucks everyday. Think about it. Think about the historical fiction books you crave. And for the love of historical authors, subscribe to newspapers.