JOURNALISTS often find it hard to throw away newspapers.

The swiftest glance around The Herald office is enough to reveal too many desks festering with newspapers, some of them a couple of months old; and, somewhere beneath them, the actual tool of the trade, a keyboard.

Papers such as these have their uses but we don't need to keep them, as all their contents go online. Still, old habits die hard. But the papers I like to rummage through are ones from decades ago.

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Over the last few days I've been looking back at old Heralds, from the early 1920s and the early 1970s. The papers from May 1921, pored over on microfilm at the Mitchell Library, were especially fascinating: for the amazing number of reports they could cram into one broadsheet page; for their sober prose-style and their faithful, verbatim reports of speeches; for their vivid snapshots of the House of Commons (David Lloyd George was still in Number 10); for their quaint advertisements for quaint fashions in long-gone department stores; for their public notices urging people to cash in their War Bonds; and for their detailed reports of such incidents as the IRA ambush in Glasgow.

It's easy to get sidetracked from your original purpose as your eye is caught by one stray, antique paragraph or headline after another. But I like these old newspapers because of what they tell us about the world at the time, and how newspapers – and those readers who shared their daily paper's outlook– came to see it. It's a strange thought that these Herald readers of 1921, praying they would never again have to endure a world war, could not know that an even greater conflict was lying in wait for them, just 18 years down the line.