05/20/2014 10:59 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2014

News Wars and Soviet Diplomacy

The other day, I brought home a hard copy of the New York Times and left it on the kitchen table.

It was like placing a dead chicken on the table.

The children stared at it.

What is this? Can I touch it? Will it hurt me?

After the initial awe wore off, my 6- and 4-year old boys started flipping through it -- sports section, of course.

My 6-year-old said, "Whoa, look at these pictures!"

Clearly, he has not grown into watching loops of highlights online as of yet, and he marveled -- yes, marveled -- at the images of players in "action."

His reaction?

"Can I cut them out and tape them on my wall?"

My reaction?


Not because I was pining for the lost experiential art of newspaper reading. Rather, I said to myself: "I need to get this kid on the computer more!"

This brings me to May 20, 1984.

It was a Sunday, and the New York Times was packed to the gills. I bet you New York types, living in a walk-up, would have needed two hands by the end of the first stairwell.

I gravitated toward what seemed as foreign to me as the physical paper on my table the other day. One whole segment of the Times back then was dedicated to looking at the newspaper industry.

First up, a piece on the "still struggling" USA Today as it tried to ramp up ad revenue.

In the spring of 1984, USA Today was not yet two years old. (Remember how cool it was that they had color pictures?)

My next article was on the "Circulation Shoot-out" in Dallas, Texas.

The Dallas Morning News was duking it out with the Dallas Times Herald. It was close. It was intense, and both were heralding double-digit ad growth.


As an aside, in 1991, the Times Herald was bought by the company that owned the Dallas Morning News.

The price tag: $55 million.

It was shut down the next day.

Of course, the erosion of newspaper circulations is now an old story. We all still love to read news, but most of us simply do not sit down and read the paper anymore. But it was fun to see -- and recall -- that the news reading culture was so different such a short time ago.

Just recently, Belo Corp., that parent company of the Dallas Morning News, reported earnings. The centerpiece of the report was growth in the digital business, but even that wasn't double digits.

Broadening my view beyond the newspaper industry on that May day in 1984, it is obvious how omnipresent the "Cold War" was at the time. It is such an accepted part of the culture and news cycle, that it isn't always front-page news.

There was a piece by the Associated Press buried inside the A-section on how the Soviet leader, Konstantin Chernenko wrote a letter to American scientists urging the U.S. not to build weapons in space.

How much have things changed in the 30 years since that letter?

The Space Shuttle is gone, and right now, we rely on the Russians as the only way to get astronauts into space.

Here's a line for the ages from the letter:

"It should be clear that, face with a threat from outer space, the Soviet Union would be compelled to take measures for insuring its security reliably."

I am not even sure what that would have meant -- and is "insure" used properly? -- but in what was supposed to be an olive branch of sorts for an accord between the two world powers, it sure serves as a stark contrast to the rhetoric we have today.