By DONNA URSCHEL
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington recently announced the Library's acquisition of the papers of Allen H. Neuharth, a visionary newspaper executive and editor who founded USA Today and Florida Today and built Gannett Co. Inc. into the largest newspaper company in the United States.
Neuharth also founded the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to a free press and free speech. The Freedom Forum funds the operations of the Newseum, the interactive museum of news, which will reopen in 2007 in a new building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
During a dinner held by the Freedom Forum and the Newseum in the Library's Great Hall in December, Neuharth presented Billington the first three items from the collection: The first edition of SoDak Sports, the first newspaper Neuharth started; a 1969 special edition of Today, a newspaper Neuharth launched in Florida in 1966, which was microfilmed and taken to the moon; and an original first issue of USA Today, published Sept. 15, 1982.
Billington thanked Neuharth for his "generous gift to the nation." He said, "Your papers will join a pantheon of other publishing greats at the Library of Congress, including Joseph Pulitzer, who pioneered the mass circulation of popular dailies in the 19th century; Henry Luce, who created Time, Life and Fortune magazines; and Roy Howard, who created an impressive newspaper chain in the mid-20th century."
Billington also said, "The energy and candor with which you have enlivened your profession will live on in many books written about the press in the 20th century."
In his dinner remarks, Neuharth said, "I feel both honored and uncharacteristically humbled tonight. It's an honor to be in these hallowed halls where my papers will be placed with those of so many much more notable and interesting personalities—from presidents and other distinguished public servants to mere media mortals."
Neuharth's papers, which are being culled from 400 boxes at the Freedom Forum, will include correspondence, speeches, memorandums and his own unpublished and published writings. The materials document Neuharth's life and career. John Haynes, curator in the Library's Manuscript Division, said the papers will become available to researchers as soon as they are delivered to the Library and organized by Library archivists. Neuharth placed no restriction on access.
Neuharth was born in 1924 in Eureka, S.D. At age 11, he took his first job as a newspaper carrier, and later, as a youth, he worked in the composing room at the weekly Alpena (S.D.) Journal. He graduated from Alpena High School and served as a combat infantryman in World War II, earning a Bronze Star. After the war, Neuharth attended the University of South Dakota and graduated with a journalism degree in 1950. He then took a job as a reporter for the Associated Press in Sioux Falls, S.D.
In 1952, he and a friend, Bill Porter, launched a statewide weekly tabloid called SoDak Sports. The newspaper failed financially, and in 1954 Neuharth took a reporting job at the Miami Herald. During the next nine years, Neuharth held important editor positions at the Herald and at the Detroit Free Press.
He joined Gannett in 1963 as general manager of its two Rochester, N.Y., newspapers, and in 1966 Neuharth assumed the added role of president of Gannett Florida and started a new newspaper, Today, later renamed Florida Today. In 1973, he was named president and chief executive officer of Gannett and chairman in 1979.
While head of Gannett, Neuharth turned a chain of small-town newspapers into a diversified billion-dollar media conglomerate. In 1982, he launched USA Today, the nation's first general-interest national newspaper, whose innovations included short snappy writing, widespread use of color photos in all sections, lively informational graphics, a detailed weather map and comprehensive coverage of sports.
Neuharth retired from Gannett in 1989 at age 65. In 1991, he founded the Freedom Forum as the successor to the Gannett Foundation, established in 1935 by Frank E. Gannett. Today he is senior advisory chairman of the Freedom Forum. He is the author of eight books, including "Free Spirit: How You Can Get the Most Out of Life at Any Age" (2000) and "Confessions of an S.O.B" (1989), his autobiography. He writes a weekly column for USA Today called "Plain Talk."
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.