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December 2, 2005

Library of Congress Acquires Papers of Al Neuharth, Founder of USA Today and the Newseum

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced today the Library’s acquisition of the papers of Allen H. Neuharth, a visionary newspaper executive and editor who founded USA Today, Florida Today and built Gannett Co. Inc., into the largest newspaper company in the United States.

Billington said, "We are pleased to accept this generous donation from one of the most innovative of journalism’s giants. Al Neuharth’s papers will join those of many other media luminaries at the Library of Congress, including Henry Luce of Time magazine; Katharine Graham and her father, Eugene Meyer, both of The Washington Post; Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and the Pulitzer Prize; his son, the second Joseph Pulitzer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette; Roy Howard of Scripps-Howard Newspapers; and more than three dozen other publishers, editors and prominent journalists."

The papers, a gift from Neuharth, will include correspondence, speeches, memoranda and his own unpublished and published writings. The materials document his life and career, from the first newspaper he started, the statewide weekly tabloid SoDak Sports, to his founding of 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.

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 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."

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PR 05-252
ISSN 0731-3527

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