The first rough draft of history

Washington Post publisher Philip Graham popularized the notion of journalism as the “first rough draft of history” — as comprehensive and accurate an account of events as possible without the benefit of the broader context that only comes with time.

Journalists have labored under that burden every day for a couple hundred years or so, pouring themselves into their reporting in an effort to help the public better understand what is happening in their midst. The calling is especially important in times of crisis, and the global cataclysm that was World War II stands out as a particularly important period for news.

Correspondents fanned out to all corners of the globe during those six years of conflict, using technology we would now consider archaic to get their stories back to a public with an insatiable hunger for news. Reviewing their work decades later, we can see the limitations of their communications systems, feel the burden of censorship, perhaps raise an eyebrow at the root-for-the-home-team inclinations.

But we can also be impressed the job done by those men and women feeding newspapers, magazines and radio networks across the free world within the context of an unprecedented challenge. So much of what they reported held up over the years, and not just because their accounts served as jumping-off points for historians to come.

On this site, we’ll take a look back at the work they did, providing a contemporary snapshot of the immediate aftermath of some of the most important events in modern history. You’ll already be familiar with some of the characters, giants of the profession like Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle, but you’ll also get to know correspondents whose names don’t resonate now like they did back then: Hal Boyle, Eric Sevareid, Don Whitehead, Martha Gellhorn, and many more.

This is the story of World War II as told in the moment.

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