How to produce a newspaper in-game

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Apropos of nothing in particular (again), I’ve also been looking at mid-C19th journalism in the US. A journalist is a great character concept for any game in media age (basicly, from ~1800. Yes, newspapers were around from the 1650’s, but not quite the same as today, and their correspondents are exactly that - “correspondents”. Or maybe “spies”). It gives you reasons to poke your nose into anything, without the risk of having to play badarse. Plus, you can write stuff up to send back in-game, giving you something to do in the slow periods. So, a character like Miss Ellison from Hell on Wheels is a great concept for anything set in the late C19th.

But then I started thinking: why just write “news”? Why not make an actual newspaper in game?

From some quick research, this is doable. Frontier or “country” newspapers were a thing in the late C19th USA, often founded by someone turning up with “a shirt-tail full of type”. And a lot of them were one-person operations, with the same person responsible for newsgathering, editing, layout, typesetting, and actually printing the thing on a handpress. The last three stages are the sort of thing you can cheat with, with a well-placed laptop and inkjet, and if you run out of paper or ink in-game, well, that’s just part of the charm. Most of these papers were 4 (broadsheet) pages, or a single, double-sided sheet of paper folded in half. But - and here’s the dirty trick - editors would crib a lot of their content from other newspapers sent via “newspaper exchanges”, and could even buy preprinted insides or “readyprint” full of them. So, depending on the setting, you may be able to steal appropriate material from actual newspapers (they’re all long out of copyright and many are online - there’s a US version of Papers Past somewhere), and even preprint it. Bonus points if you hang it from the ceiling in your workspace to “dry”. And if they ever ran out of content, they’d reprint a chunk of some classic literature and call it a serial.

How much content would you need to produce? A side of A4 in 4-columns and 10 point is ~1000 words. Assuming you’re doing this on a standard home printer (rather than getting a specialist A3 printer), and you pre-write your “inside”, you only need to produce one of them. Of course, it should be liberally full of advertisements (which you should of course get other larpers and the GMs to supply), which is probably half your space. Which means you only need to crank out 500 words - or about the same length as this post. Which means your actual production, once you’ve gathered the news, will take you about an hour - or twice that if you have an A3 printer. You can spend Friday night and Saturday morning newsgathering, and have the local out by Saturday dinner. Or do it for Sunday morning after the traditional Saturday-night plot-climax (alternatively: produce an “extra” covering that)

(You don’t need to worry about photos pre-1880 because before then they had to be engraved for print, which was expensive and time-consuming, and cameras needed wet plates that were difficult to prepare in the field. If your larp is set after that, then sticking a cheap digital camera in a big box becomes practical).

Best of all: there are in-period manuals for this. The world’s first journalism “textbooks”, Haney’s Guide to Authorship and Hints to Young Editors were published in 1867 and 1872 respectively. They’re quite short, so quick to read, and you can even print and bind your own and use it as an in-game prop.


Now I want to steampunk a printer. I wonder how difficult that would be. :thinking:

It would need to be small, to maintain portability. Perhaps briefcase like.


Sounds like a few people are interested in the Journalist class then.

Convenient: a collection of historical Colorado newspapers to crib from:

The Rocky Mountain News looks like a useful source of ideas for adverts.

(1869 layout is wildly different from modern. No photos, because no halftone, but also less emphasis on readability and spacing. Its all about cramming as much onto the page as possible, because paper is expensive)

Today I learned that printing 20 copies of double-sided A3 (done manually) takes 12 minutes. Which means that once the content is set up, production should be a breeze.

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I wanted to say I loved how easy and fun it was to just pop into the news room and write up an article during the Saturday lull. I will definitely be a regular contributor to the Riftside Review!


And what a great article it was. Lots of potential for player-made plot!

Let’s hope we’ll have an editor on site for the entire weekend next time, eh? nudge

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I’m hoping. Friday would let me spread the workload a little, and maybe do some other stuff. Though if I’m enabling players to publish their docs in-game, I’d need to add a second laptop I think.