I understand that the past historic is used in French literature, and I encountered it just now in the Louis-Segond bible. But I'm curious to know if French writers are still using it on a common basis today? Does it show up in French newspapers? Contemporary French novels? Or is it largely considered bad style for a modern audience?
The "passé simple" is definitely still used by contemporary writers, and it is not considered as bad or outdated style. For instance, I have just had a look at a novel by Frédéric Beigbeder, who is very much a trendy, non-classical French writer, and he often uses the passé simple.
It is much less common in newspapers (even "serious" ones), though, or at least not in news reports, where the passé composé is used instead, like in standard, every day speech. Take for instance today's headline article on "Le Monde", there is not a single instance of the "passé simple".
Still, you may find it in articles that narrate facts over a longer stretch of time than the recent news, and where a more literary style is used, such as an obituary; see here for instance: "Elle reçut le prix de la meilleure comédienne à Venise."
On this topic, this article is quite interesting. A study has come to the conclusion that the "passé simple" is surprisingly much more common in sports news than in general news, presumably because of its epic, heroic touch it gives to a report.