He founded USA Today, the nation’s largest newspaper by total daily print circulation, in 1982, and was a supporter of Native American journalists, pushing for diversity in newsrooms.
Allen “Al” Neuharth, who also served as the chairman, chief executive and president of Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper group, from 1976 to 1989, died April 19. He was 89.
“Al’s passing is a great loss for all of us in the Gannett family,” Gannett President and Chief Executive Gracia Martore said. “Al was many things—a journalist, a leader, a serial entrepreneur, and a pioneer in advancing opportunities for women and minorities. But above all, he was an innovator with a unique sense of the public taste.”
Neuharth was a supporter of the Native American Journalists Association, and was even instrumental in the organization’s founding. He held a lifetime NAJA membership and was a founder of the Freedom Forum, which introduced Native American students to journalism through the Crazy Horse Journalism Workshop and American Indian Journalism Institute.
Both of those programs are held in South Dakota, where Neuharth was born in 1924, and he attended them every year to inspire students.
“Al Neuharth was a great supporter of NAJA and a supporter of many of us personally,” longtime journalist and former NAJA president Mark Trahant said in a NAJA press release. “He was also a promoter of programs, such as the American Indian Journalism Institute, that brought more American Indians and Alaska Natives into journalism than any other program of its kind.”
Neuharth’s journalism career began in South Dakota. He worked as an Associated Press reporter in Sioux Falls for two years before founding SoDak Sports, a weekly newspaper, in 1952. He then worked his way up the Knight newspaper group in Miami and Detroit before joining Gannett.
He was the first man to receive the Women in Communications Headline Award for his efforts to increase diversity in the newsroom.
“Al Neuharth was extraordinarily committed to gender, racial and ethnic diversity and a strong advocate for Native American journalists long before his peers in the newspaper industry,” said UNITY President Tom Arviso Jr. in a statement. “Because of the doors he opened, many journalists of color and women got their first jobs or internships and many more moved into top leadership roles at Gannett-owned newspapers and television stations.”
Neuharth’s mother was widowed when he was just 2 and he talks about this in his 1989 autobiography Confessions of an S.O.B.
“I watched my mother work longer and harder for less money to support her two sons than the heads of households who happened to be men,” he wrote. “That adolescent fury of a defensive son matured into a lifelong battle against prejudice of all kinds. And a commitment that equality must be for all, not just those who can control it.”