In one of the trail journals I read, the author mentions packing her boots with newspaper to dry them out. On the one hand I can see perhaps some wicking action, but this would greatly reduce airflow.
Will this actually help dry shoes out?
Yes it does dry shoes much faster. When long distance hiking it is definitely a nice thing to be able to stop in town and dry your shoes overnight using newspapers. It will draw a lot of the dampness right out of your footwear.
First ball up some newspaper. I usually use two large sheets per shoe, but I'm sure more motivated people could squish in more. Once you have a ball of newspaper shove it into that nasty wet sneaker, and keep shoving in balls of newspaper until the shoe is full of newspaper. Leave it overnight, and the next day your shoes will be dry! If they're really wet, you may want to replace the newspaper after a few hours.
Some people will also wrap the outside of the the shoe with newspaper and elastic bands. I've personally never used this before.
Before using the newspaper, I usually take a lightload towel and place it inside my shoe. I will than press on it using my foot and extract as much water as possible from the sole. I repeat the process until no more water is drawn and then use the newspaper.
I also use the towel trick on the trail after heavy rainfall except without the newspaper. This helps not having to walk with two small aquariums attached to my feet.
While airflow does dry shoes, it is much less effective than physically wicking moisture away using towel, some or paper.
Capillary action is very effective at removing water from anything, and wide fibre or coarse paper, such as newspaper, or better still, tissue or kitchen towel or swimmers' chamois are your best bet on the trail or after a wet hike.
If you have a dry airflow available (some huts have stands where heated air goes through the shoes), that is of course faster. However, just leaving your boots stand does not lead to much air flow.
With (news)paper, you can easily take out the moisture and put in a new, dry paper. That is actually the key: If you just stuff your boots with paper and leave the moist paper inside the boots, it won't help that much. Of course you'll get some moisture out next morning with the wet paper, but if you replace the paper a few times over the evening (like @ppl does with the towel), you can get even soaked boots dry till morning.
I've tried using newspaper in my boots several times. - I hike at least once a week in normally wet, muddy conditions in BC Canada.
I usually stuff 4 large pages of newspaper in each boot. It really works and the boots dry in a matter of 6 hours!
Before I knew this trick, I'd leave the boots to air dry, which took days and days. Eventually they'd be rotten before they'd fully dried.
I've never tried this, but maybe it'll work...
One thing that absorbs moisture is rice. Ever seen salt shakers in a restaurant that has bits of rice in it? That's to keep moisture from getting into the salt. You can stuff the rice into pantyhose or similar netted material and then put that into your boots overnight.
(I wouldn't recommend eating the rice after though)