I was still in diapers when Russia launched Sputnik 50 years ago.
All of us who were babies at the time didn�t know how much that event would change our lives.
As I grew to become a toddler, I remember standing in the back seat of my dad�s 1951 Plymouth. I liked it back there.
The roof of the car sloped downward in a strange curve, and the rear window was so small I never could figure how Dad or Mom saw anything when they backed up.
The automobile had the aerodynamics of a turtle.
By the time I was in elementary school, the car�s wheels were nearly ready to fall off. So, Mom and Dad loaded my brothers into the back seat, and crossed their fingers that it wouldn�t break down as we drove to Sioux Falls.
Our destination: Ben-Hur Ford. I remember we bounced on the seats and kicked the tires of several different models and finally went on short test drives in a few cars.
My brothers and I were wide-eyed. We had never seen technology like this before.
The new cars sported large, lighted speedometer dials that looked like they belonged in a cockpit of a jet, and giant exterior lights and tail fins, as if the auto would sprout wings any moment and fly.
It wasn�t until years later that I would learn that nearly everything in our culture – the design of our cars, the architecture of our buildings, a new modern emphasis on art and fashion, and, much to the horror of my brothers and my classmates, the introduction of New Math – could all be credited to Sputnik, and the ensuing space race that occurred between Russia and the United States.
It�s appropriate that as you read this, we will have just completed our celebration of another major cultural milestone in our nation.
Twenty-five years ago, the lame riddle �What�s black and white and read all over?� applied to nearly every newspaper in the country.
Al Neuharth changed all that, with a bit of Technicolor magic. He launched the first national newspaper, with a modern flair.
He knew his new publication would be like a rocket that fizzles and then explodes on the launch pad if he didn�t give it a unique pop.
So he flooded it with color. He filled it with short stories that would appeal to an audience that had grown accustomed to getting news a snippet at a time from television and radio.
Suddenly, other newspaper publishers realized that it wouldn�t hurt if their products also changed.
Look at any newsstand today. What do you see? Bright hues. Info boxes. A mix of hard news, and features about sports and culture and all of the other little things that we find important – even news about the weather, brought to us in a virtual dreamcoat of a United States map flush with different pigments. USA TODAY helped all of that become the norm in the newspaper business.
The stars and other heavenly bodies evidently are perfectly aligned. How else can one explain how the celebration of USA TODAY�S 25th anniversary in USD�s Slagle Hall also occurred during National Newspaper Week?
Thursday�s program helped remind everyone in the audience why news is so important to all of us. It is the stuff of that defines our lives, that give us a sense of where we�ve been, and where we are going.
Fifty years ago, long before the first edition of USA TODAY rolled off the presses, Sputnik circled overhead. No one knew back then how that tiny, beeping orb would alter our world.
Mankind�s very first satellite maintained its orbit for only three months before burning up in the earth�s atmosphere.
Thanks to the foresight of Neuharth, John C. Quinn, the first editor-in chief, and Ken Paulson, USA TODAY�S current editor, the future of �the nation�s newspaper� looks bright.