Al Neuharth: Can ‘old’ newspapers remain relevant?

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USA TODAY celebrates its 30th birthday anniversary this weekend (Sept. 15, 2012). The Nation’s Newspaper first was published on Sept. 15, 1982, in the Washington, D.C., market.

Most media critics brushed us off quickly. Linda Ellerbee, then a popular late-night news commentator on NBC, paraphrased our “non-smudge” ink promotion with this sarcastic comment: “USA TODAY doesn’t rub off on your hands or your mind.” Many critics compared us to McDonald’s, as the “fast food of journalism.”

But the farther west of the Hudson and west of the Potomac we went, the more popular we became. When our certified circulation topped more than 1 million in just six months, most observers decided the guessing game was over. Some critics began adopting some of our news features. As Taylor Buckley, then editor of USA TODAY’s Money section, told a California editors’ conference in the spring of 1983: “The same newspaper editors who called us McPaper now are stealing some of our McNuggets.”

Just as there was widespread conjecture about USA TODAY 30 years ago, there is rampant speculation about newspapers in general today. The daily circulation for the top three:

• The Wall Street Journal 2,118,315 (1,566,027 print and 552,288 digital)

• USA TODAY 1,817,446 (1,701,777 print and 115,669 digital)

• The New York Times 1,586,757 (779,731 print and 807,026 digital)

The fact is more people across the USA and around the world want more news and information today than ever before. They also want it in different ways — in print, on the air, on the Web.

As long as news providers give it to them when they want it, where they want it and how they want it, they not only will survive but also thrive. That includes newspapers, if they also adapt to new ways of distributing the news, which they generally gather more professionally than any other media.


“Al is right. No other media equal newspapers in gathering news, professionally and fulsomely. That has always been the industry’s main strength, and always will be.”
John Morton, newspaper analyst“Al has a right to crow. His baby was much ridiculed, but it not only thrived; it had wide influence. It will be fascinating to watch USA TODAY evolve under digitally savvy leadership.”
Rem Rieder, editor, American Journalism Review

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