1975 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"The sky doesn’t fall when you fail. Chicken Little was wrong. The moon and stars are still there. The next time you reach for them, you’re more likely to get them in your grasp."
Born in Eureka, South Dakota, in 1924, Allen Neuharth never knew his father, who died when he was 22 months old. His mother cleaned houses, worked at a café, and took in laundry. At the age of 11, Neuharth took his first job as a newspaper carrier. Later, he worked in the composing room at the weekly Alpena (S.D.) Journal. He served as the editor of his high school newspaper and, after graduation, served as a combat infantryman in World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
Upon his return from the war, Neuharth attended the University of South Dakota, where he majored in journalism and once again served as editor of the school paper. He graduated in 1950 and joined The Associated Press in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as a reporter, making $50 a week.
Two years later, Neuharth and a friend launched a statewide weekly tabloid called SoDak Sports. The paper captured readers, but not advertisers. In less than two years, the paper was bankrupt and Neuharth was on the street. "That failure was a blessing in disguise," he says. "I learned more from that one failure than from any of my successes later in life. The most important thing I learned is that the sky doesn't fall when you fail. Chicken Little was wrong. The moon and the stars are still there. And the next time you reach for them, you're more likely to get them in your grasp."
Next, Neuharth got a job as a reporter with the Miami Herald. He out-worked and out-performed his fellow reporters, scoring frequent front-page scoops. He was promoted to assistant city editor, and later became city editor. In 1960, he was named assistant executive editor of the Detroit Free Press. Three years later, he joined Gannett as general manager of its two Rochester, New York, newspapers. In 1966, he assumed the added role of president of Gannett Florida. While there, he started a new newspaper, TODAY, which was later renamed Florida TODAY, an early prototype of USA Today.
Neuharth is credited with building Gannett from a small regional newspaper chain into the largest newspaper publisher in the nation. Less than one year after launching USA Today, he had surpassed his goal of a million readers. In 2005, USA Today had a daily circulation of 2.3 million, by far the largest in the country.
Neuharth stepped down as CEO of Gannett in 1989 and became chairman of The Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech, and free spirit for all people. The Freedom Forum funds and operates the Newseum, the First Amendment Center, and the Diversity Institute. Neuharth served as chairman of the Freedom Forum from 1986 to 1997.
The author of eight books, including his autobiography, Confessions of an S.O.B., which had a long run on The New York Times and other bestseller lists, Neuharth wrote a weekly column for USA Today called "Plain Talk," which also appeared in other papers.* Deceased