UNITY: Journalists for Diversity joins other voices in the media industry in mourning the passing of Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, The Freedom Forum and the Newseum and a lifelong champion of newsroom diversity.
Neuharth, who died Friday at age 89, was an unapologetic trailblazer who genuinely believed that newspapers and newsrooms needed to better reflect the communities they cover. When he launched USA Today, he understood that any publication that billed itself as “The Nation’s Newspaper” needed to include the stories and images of its diverse citizens. To that end, he required that every issue include photos of women and people of color on the front page above the fold, so they could be seen through USA Today’s unique newspaper box.
“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. “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.”
“We also appreciate Gannett’s generous support of UNITY throughout all five UNITY conventions, including providing space for our UNITY offices and board meetings. Pioneers like Al Neuharth are why Gannett remains one of the most diverse media companies today.”
Neuharth wrote in his 1989 autobiography, ‘Confessions of an S.O.B.,’ that he grew up with a keen understanding of “the great pain and injustice of discrimination.”
“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.”
When he became CEO of Gannett Corp. in 1973, he named Gloria Biggs the company’s first woman publisher, of the Melbourne Times. When other company executives scoffed at diversity, he tied their annual bonuses to how well they had hired and promoted women and people of color in their newsrooms.
During his tenure at Gannett, he transformed the company’s all-white, all-male board of directors into one that boasted three white woman, one black woman, one black male and one Asian male.
While others gave lip service to the importance of newsroom diversity and inclusion, Neuharth was on a first-name basis with many prominent journalists of color.
The Native American Journalists Association said Neuharth, a lifelong NAJA member, was “instrumental in the founding of our organization and a strong partner in NAJA’s mission of supporting Native American journalists.”
“Al Neuharth was a great supporter of NAJA and a supporter of many of us personally,” former NAJA president Mark Trahant said in NAJA’s statement. “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.”
Gregory H. Lee, Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists, met Neuharth as a 20-year-old intern, and said in an NABJ statement that “he was a very big supporter of diversity and the industry owes a big debt to him for his leadership and vision.”
UNITY: Journalists for Diversity offers its prayers, sympathy and gratitude to Mr. Neuharth’s family, friends and admirers throughout the media industry.
About UNITY: Journalists for Diversity
UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, an alliance of four journalism organizations representing more than 4,000 journalists, is the most diverse journalism organization in the nation.. A coalition of the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association, UNITY is a strategic alliance advocating fair and accurate news coverage about people of color and LGBT issues and aggressively challenges news organizations to increase diversity in whom they employ at all levels of their companies.
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