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Newspaper Dating

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"Having crammed on time travel movies before their first time heist, Steve knows the best way to find the date and place is to look for a stray newspaper."

A Time Traveler may not want to confuse random passers-by by asking them "What Year Is This?", so they'll find a newspaper or other conveniently dated artifact instead. A standard joke has one character using the architecture, the fashions, the technology, and the incidents on TV to come up with a guess at the year, only for someone else to correct them after reading the paper.

Technology Marches On, and while they continue to be printed, it is still to be seen how long newspapers will be available to check this in runs to the future, what with the prevalence of people reading the news on their smartphone on their way to work. Though of course this trope probably won't ever be truly discredited, unlike most tropes involving newspapers, since time-travel can still always bring a character to an era where newspapers were more relevant.

Not to be confused with personal ads, or with Authentication by Newspaper, or with two people dating and it having something to do with a newspaper.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop does a somewhat serious take on the joke version of this in "My Funny Valentine". In order to demonstrate the extent of her remaining memory after waking from a cold-sleep, Faye identifies a series of slightly futuristic-looking objects on the table next to her. Her lawyer then makes a point of showing her just how far into the future she's been thrown by demonstrating that the items are not a TV, a water pitcher, and a phone but rather a miniature washing machine, a device for washing faces, and a thermometer.
  • In Dazzle, this is how Rahzel finally realizes that she's been sent in the past.
  • Kyon uses this method at one point during The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya to figure out what year he is in after using Nagato's escape program. He considers asking What Year Is This?, but swiftly discards the idea after realizing how demented he would look to others and instead heads for a convenience store to check the newspapers.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, Jolyne finds herself in the memory of a plane that's going to explode, and looking around, she finds a newspaper dating the incident back to 2005.
  • A more short term version appears in Negima! Magister Negi Magi. Chao sends Negi and his friends a week into the future to the point that she has already won the battle. They realize something is up (the massive School Festival has disappeared), but they don't figure out what happened until Yue sees the date on a newspaper. Chisame finds out separately over the internet.

    Comic Books 
  • The protagonist of The Big Lie from Image Comics (a book about the events of 9/11) does this at the start of the story, discovering she has arrived several days earlier than she intended.
  • Played with in the Blake and Mortimer book The Time Trap: Mortimer finds himself alone in a post apocalyptic future. He finds an inscription in some ruins reading "2015-2050" and thus believes himself to be in the mid 21st century...until he meets someone else and mentions the date only to be informed he's actually in 5060: the ruins he was in were of a city destroyed in 2075.
  • A Donald Duck story had a scam artist turn a newspaper from the 3rd to the 8th with a marker.
  • Subverted in a 1993 Dylan Dog storyline, where the eponymous hero wakes up with amnesia in a post-apocalyptic future. It's only near the end of the story that he finds, in the ruins of a library, a collection of (very aged) newspapers running up to 2001, the year civilization ended. Dylan deduces he must be in the early 21st century... Then, not three panels later, he reads on a solar-powered clock it's August 4th, 2560.
  • In a Nightmare Sequence in Femforce #22, Ms. Victory finds herself in New York City. She checks a newspaper on a newsstand and sees it is 1937, a few years before she gained her powers.
  • The Flash: The classic story "Flash of Two Worlds" sees Barry end up in a city he's never heard of after performing an Indian rope trick. He looks at a newspaper to determine "when" he is — seeing the date and year are the same as they were before, he realizes he hasn't traveled through time. It's later revealed that he's on Earth-2, an alternate universe's version of Earth where DC's Golden Age characters live.

    Fan Works 
  • In Against My Nature Harry realizes it's 1925 when he sees a Daily Prophet article about Grindlewald.
  • In Black Fortunes Harry spots a newspaper in passing and is dismayed to realize he's back in 1975.
  • In Dumbledore's Army, Harry receives visions of two future attacks. A few chapters are spent trying to pinpoint these through newspapers and school assignments.
  • Fate DxD AU: When Ritsuka Fujimaru lands in the DxD world, he finds a newspaper that says it is 2008. In his own world, is was roughly 2021.
  • Inverted in Out of Time when Kenshin from the revolution ends up time traveling twelve years into the future (during the main series). While Sano has figured out what's going on, Kenshin isn't convinced (and is rather intent on killing Sano, believing he's a spy). Sano's barely able to get him to look at an old discarded newspaper, which wins him over.
  • In Naturally Harry uses a newsstand paper to verify that it's currently 1927.
  • In The Second String Harry discovers that it's 1976 from a discarded Daily Mirror.
  • In a variation in With Strings Attached, the four find out that they're in an alternate New York, “New Zork,” in 1954, from a license plate. Given what they did in New York had taken place in 1964, they feel pretty safe in wandering around without fear of being mobbed. That is, until Ringo, lagging behind the others, plucks a newspaper out of the trash and finds to his horror that in this universe, the “Beagles” have just arrived in the city.... Cue the ensuing of hilarity.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 50 First Dates, a character with short-term memory loss doesn't know what year it is, until she sees a newspaper. This is the result of her father arranging for hundreds of copies of the newspaper from the day of her accident, to keep her from having to deal with it for as long as possible.
  • Marty does this in the first and second Back to the Future movies. Played with in Back to the Future Part II, where the newspaper confirms Marty has the right date, he's just in a different timeline. And then there's a *Click* Hello.
    Strickland: So you're the son of a bitch who's been stealing my newspapers!
  • A variation occurs in Field of Dreams, where Ray figures out he's walked back into 1972 by checking the registration date on a Minnesota license plate.
  • In Idiocracy, Joe (and the viewer) finds out what year he's in by seeing a magazine covernote  dated 2505 (which he thinks is a misprint), and then a receipt that confirms the date on the magazine.
  • The attempt at newspaper dating in Men in Black 3 doesn't work because the guy in the elevator keeps shifting the date on the paper out of J's line of sight. J finally just asks him What Year Is It?.
  • Used twice in Rewind (2013), where a secret government project has created a prototype time machine that opens random, temporary windows into the past. In order to determine the date and location these windows connect to, Mission Control launches a very tiny drone through the portal and hopes to surreptitiously blunder into something or someone that indicates what era they've got access to:
    • The first window seen in the film leads to a field in Gloucester on July 22nd, 1934. The drone picked up the date and location by listening to a radio broadcast.
    • The next window opens up in the basement of a fairly modern looking building. Once the drone zips out of the door and onto the street, a random passerby just happens to hold up a copy of The Washington News with the date "Friday March 8 1929" printed on it.
  • Subverted in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Spock determines from the pollution in the atmosphere as being "the latter half of the twentieth century" and Kirk doesn't ask to get more specific than that as it doesn't matter. Later, Kirk is seen looking at a newspaper machine, but only to confirm that the time period still has a currency-based economy and they will need to acquire some money in order to complete the mission.
  • In Time After Time, after H. G. Wells demonstrates his time-machine to his skeptical 20th Century girlfriend by taking her a few days into the future, she confirms that his time-machine works when she sees a newspaper dated a few days later. She then reads about her own murder on the front page. Earlier in the movie, when he arrives in 1979, he already knows when he is, but makes use of a newspaper to find out where he is (apparently not having realized he'd traveled from London to San Francisco).

  • In "Against the Current" by Robert Silverberg the main character starts drifting backwards through time from 2008 with his Prius, and regularly checks newspapers to determine how far he's gone — first 1983, then 1973, then 1971 and so on.
  • Variation in Animorphs: Jake, while trapped in a post-apocalyptic New York City, tries to determine when humanity lost by the dates in a bombed-out magazine stand.
  • Around the World in Eighty Days has what might be considered a non-time-travel aversion, in that Phileas Fogg apparently never checks the date on a newspaper after crossing the Pacific. Had he done so he would have realised that he had gained a day after crossing the International Date Line.
  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's The Norby Chronicles:
    • Norby and the Queen's Necklace:
      • In chapter two, the first time the characters activate the necklace, Jeff finds a newspaper on the floor, establishing that they're in Paris, France, and that they arrived on February 1, 1785.
      • In chapter four, after Norby rescues Jeff and Marcel from the executioner, Marcel picks up a newspaper that says the date is April 16, 1896. Jeff can’t because he and Norby are Fading Away.
      • In chapter eleven, Norby is the one who finds a newspaper, giving us the date of July 14, 1805. It shows that time has been changed, because people aren’t celebrating Bastille Day.
    • Norby Finds a Villain: In chapter four, Jeff uses the menu of the RMS Titanic to recognize that it was April 14, 1912. When he realizes that the ship is sinking, he orders Norby to take them away.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • Time Enough for Love. Lazarus Long travels back in time and reads a newspaper to learn the current date: August 1, 1916. This is about three years earlier than he intended to arrive, since he'd planned to skip World War I.
    • Toward the end of Methuselah's Children, the characters have returned to Earth in their stolen starship, but don't want to land until they know how much time has passed since they fled an oppressive government. One of the characters, Andy Libby, determines the approximate date by examining the relative positions of the planets in the Solar System. (75 years have passed.)
  • This appears whenever Bobby arrives on First Earth (Earth in the year 1937) in The Pendragon Adventure.
  • The limited-run school stories anthology Spooky has a lot of its stories featuring this trope, mainly because people ended up in the past a lot.
  • Played with in To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. The main character needs to find out the exact date he landed in order to correctly fulfill his Set Right What Once Went Wrong mission. He finds a newspaper, but doesn't realize that it's several days old.
    • Connie Willis does this again in Blackout. A time traveler finds half a newspaper and tries to use it to figure out the date. First it turns out to be the half that doesn't have the date printed on it, so he has to use his knowledge of history to correlate the stories in the paper with the date. After he manages to figure it out, he starts talking to people, and through a series of conversational missteps realizes that the paper is again several days older than he thought it was.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in a 1997 episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun. Dick, who already thinks he's losing his mind, is in a doctor's waiting room filled with, of course, old magazines. After rifling through them, he panics, declaring "Oh my god, it's 1994!"
  • Angel. After spending sixteen years in a hell dimension, Holtz looks at a newspaper to see what year it is and is shocked to find that only days have passed since he left.
  • This shows up in the Charmed episode "That '70s Episode", when the protagonists time-travel back to the 1970s.
  • Come Back Mrs. Noah. Garstang says he has no idea how old he is, as he was found wrapped in newspaper with some fish and chips.
    Cunliffe: Well didn't the newspaper have a date on it?
    Garstang: It was the comic page!
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", the TARDIS crew discover they are in 2164 (or later) from a calendar in an abandoned warehouse.
    • "The Chase" sees a variant of this trope. Ian & Barbara find out they’re (near enough) home by checking the windscreen of the nearest parked car to find its tax disc expires on New Year’s Eve 1965. (This is referenced in An Adventure in Space and Time when the audience is shown that it is 1966 by displaying a car's tax disc.)
    • In "The Enemy of the World", Jamie finds out he's in 2018 by looking at the expiration date of the tax disc on the helicopter that's just picked him up. (Hilarious in Hindsight - tax discs were phased out in the UK in 2014.)
    • In "The Unquiet Dead", the Doctor uses a paper to determine that they are not, in fact, in 1860 Naples, but rather 1869 Cardiff. Rose doesn't care until she hears that last bit. "Right..."
    • In "Rise of the Cybermen", the TARDIS crashes and Mickey uses this method to determine that they have landed in modern London; it then transpires that they've passed into a parallel universe by accident.
    • Also used in "Daleks in Manhattan", where the Doctor attempts to work out the date from how complete the Empire State Building is, whilst Martha picks up a newspaper from a bench behind them.
    • In "Human Nature", a teacher called John Smith wakes up from a strange dream in which he's a doctor caught up in adventures in the far-flung future of 2007. His maid, who just happens to resemble his companion in that dream, assures him that it's 1913 and hands over the daily paper as proof.
    • Kathy Nightingale does this in "Blink", though it's as much to convince her that she time-travelled at all as to determine the date.
    • In "The Unicorn and the Wasp", the Doctor figures out what year it is by other clues, but the exact date turns out to be important.
    • Another take on this trope is the Doctor (who has Seen It All) telling the date from the technology around him, e.g. in "Kill the Moon".
      Courtney: This isn't the Moon. Where are we?
      The Doctor: On a recycled space shuttle. 2049, judging by that prototype version of the Bennett oscillator.
    • "Rosa" has the Doctor doing this to deduce that her and her companions are in town the day before a pivotal historical event, which means they can't just leave since someone is clearly attempting to meddle with it.
  • This trope is how the protagonists of FlashForward (2009) find out that the eponymous flash forwards are supposed to show the future. As well as in its modern incarnation, Journeyman.
  • Kamen Rider Zi-O pulls a variation in the first episode, with Sougo checking the expiration date on a milk carton to confirm that he's really gone back in time to 2017.
  • That was a key element of a two-part Faked Rip Van Winkle ploy in the first Mission: Impossible series. After escaping the futuristic hospital he had woken up in, the mark goes to the first newspaper booth he sees (right in front of the hospital) and "discovers" that he hasn't been out that long... but still a day longer than he really was.
  • In the 1981 Afterschool Special My Mother was Never a Kid Victoria Martin, after getting into an argument with her mother, seemingly travels through time during a subway trip and meets her mother as a teenager, she only confirms her travel by finding a newspaper dated 1944. She comes to realize that she and her mother are very much the same. In the end we find out it was all just a dream.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • In "Vanishing Act", Trevor McPhee realizes that he has traveled ten years into the future when he sees issues of TIME Magazine and Life dated 1959.
    • "The Origin of Species" has a variation. A group think they have been transported to an alien planet, but gradually figure out they are in the distant future. A look at the expiration date of a discarded candy bar wrapper confirms this. (By no means accurate, but close enough for their purposes).
  • Played with in Red Dwarf, "Backwards" - the date on the newspaper was 3991, but by that point Kryten had realized that everything was backwards, so the actual year was 1993.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "Spectre of the Gun", Captain Kirk finds a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph dated October 26th, 1881. On YouTube here, starting at 5:30.note 
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Time's Arrow", Data does this to tell both where and when he is by finding a copy of the San Francisco Register dated August 13, 1893.
    • Averted in Star Trek: Voyager. In "Future's End", the ship time traveled back to Earth in 1996, which they find out just by doing an astrometric reading. And in "Fury", having traveled back to a past Voyager, Kes just asks the ship's computer for the date.
  • Supernatural:
    • In "In the Beginning", Dean realizes he's been sent back in time by the angel Castiel when he goes into a diner and sees the date on the newspaper of the man next to him (who happens to be his father). He also does it when he is raised from the dead in "Lazarus Rising" due to time flowing much slower in Hell than on Earth.
    • When carried forward to a Bad Future where Croatoan virus has swept over the Earth, Dean reads the date on a government warning sign announcing the area he's in is a hot zone. Zachariah (the angel who sent him there) later turns up to read the newspaper to him, just to ram home what a Crapsack World it is.
    • After traveling forward in time from 1958, Henry Winchester (Dean's grandfather) reads the registration on the Impala. "2013? My god! I guess the Mayans were wrong."
  • The season 3 episode of Teen Wolf, "Motel California" has a cold open that shows a flashback to 1975, when an Argent relative checked into the featured motel of the episode and killed himself before transforming into a werewolf. Newspapers and the dates they display are a recurring theme of this episode, tempting the audience to believe that this episode and the motel itself may actually feature a connection to time-travel and bringing to the table the possibility that Lydia's powers give her the ability to sense death throughout all of time (evidenced by the fact that she heard 2 deaths in the room next door, when the deaths occurred prior to the group's arrival at the motel).
  • In the first episode of season 2 of Timewasters, the band arrives in the 1950s and Lauren identifies the year as 1958 from a discarded newspaper on the street: the lead story being about Russian spies.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "A Hundred Yards over the Rim", Chris Horn, who is from 1847, realizes that he is in the future when he sees a calendar dated 1961 in Joe's diner.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985):
    • In "Grace Note", after being transported through time, Rosemarie Miletti picks up a copy of The New York Herald and learns that it is March 22, 1986, 20 years in her future.
    • In "The Once and Future King", Gary Pitkin realizes that he has gone back in time and is talking to the real Elvis Presley when he finds a copy of The Commercial Appeal dated Monday July 3, 1954 with a prominent photo of Dwight D. Eisenhower on the front page.

    Video Games 
  • In Chrono Cross, the Dead Sea is a fragment of alt-1999 A.D., and Chronopolis is supposed to have originated in the year 2300, which the group discovers looking at the plaque.
  • In Fairy Fencer F, in at least two of the three alternate timelines, the party discovers that they've traveled in time thanks to this. Humorously, in the Goddess timeline, Fang has no idea what Eryn is trying to convey when she shows him the newspaper at first, thinking she just dredged up an old copy of the newspaper from somewhere.
  • Deliberately subverted in The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure, because newspapers only say what day of which month it is, not the year. Other documents that do suggest dates by year are wildly contradictory (e.g. a book given as a signed gift in the 1950s, yet published in 1978).
  • In Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, Layton first realizes how far into the future he is when he finds a newspaper and realizes that the date is 10 years into the future.
  • In TimeSplitters Future Perfect, Cortez picks up a photo of the Big Bad. The Mission Control proposes a complex scheme to determine when/where to send Cortez to, regarding the building heights and designs. Cortez waits through the speech, then reads out the date, time and place from the back of the photo.
  • While no time travel is involved, both Red Dead Redemption and its sequel/prequel go through a time skip before the Playable Epilogue starts. The amount of time that passed off-screen is usually not mentioned in dialogue, so the simplest way to find out what year it is is to buy a newspaper.

  • Fate/type Redline: Kanata Akagi is a boy from 2020 who gets sent to the past. He finds a newspaper that confirms he is in 1945.
  • At the end of issue 6 of Strong Female Protagonist, the real professor who was supposed to be teaching Alison's college philosophy class walked into the classroom, to the confusion of all students present. When asked what happened to Professor Gurwara, he responded that he had never heard of anyone by that name, and, when Alison challenged him on the date, he looked at his newspaper and collapsed with shock upon discovering that he had lost around a month and a half of his life.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: Parodied in "Another Five Short Graybles" with the obviously fake newspaper Jake creates to 'prove' that he went to the future.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold's universe-jumping adventure, Batman discovers that he's traveled into the future as well as across universes from a newspaper.
  • Played with in the Close Enough episode "Time Hooch". After Josh and Alex time-travelled due to the titular whiskey, they find a newspaper of the moon landing in 1969. Alex concludes that they've time travelled to three years ago, when he collected '60s stuff.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: In "One Thousand Years of Courage", Courage and his family end up in a world ruled by sentient bananas, and when Courage points out the date on a newspaper, they realize they've been flung a thousand years into the future.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero also does it to confirm they haven't time-traveled, with the same result, in their universe-jumping adventure in the original series.
  • Justice League
  • In the Looney Tunes short "The Old Grey Hare", Elmer is sent to the far-off year of 2000 AD, which he figures out from a conveniently placed newspaper. He also learns that, among other things, television has been replaced by smellovision.
    Carl Stalling sez, "It will never work!"
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Agent Doof", Candace attempts to use this to convince her mom that Phineas and Ferb were turned into babies when the pictures she sends are mistaken for old, scrounged-up baby photos.
  • In X-Men: The Animated Series, when Bishop time-travels he simply picks up a newspaper and reads the date off the front page.


Video Example(s):


Data finds out the date

After a temporal distortion causes Data to wake up on an unexpected street he finds a newspaper to confirm when and where he's traveled.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / NewspaperDating

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