| Al Neuharth was born a poor country boy in rural South Dakota in 1924. He became a self-made multimillionaire who built the nation’s largest newspaper company, Gannett Co. Inc., and started the nation’s most widely read newspaper, USA TODAY.
Since his “retirement” from Gannett in 1989 at age 65, Neuharth has been an active author, speaker, columnist and world traveler. He “retired a second time” on June 1, 1997, as chairman of one of the nation’s largest private charitable foundations, The Freedom Forum, which he founded in 1991 as the successor to the Gannett Foundation, established in 1935 by Frank E. Gannett.
As chairman of The Freedom Forum, Neuharth oversaw a foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people. He became a trustee in 1965 and became foundation chairman in 1986. Today he is senior advisory chairman of The Freedom Forum. In 1995, he founded the Freedom Forum’s NEWSEUM.
Neuharth has written eight books. His latest, “Free Spirit: How You Can You Get the Most Out of Life at Any Age,” was published by Newseum Books in November 2000. Neuharth’s autobiography, “Confessions of an S.O.B.,” had a long run on The New York Times and other best-seller lists. The hardcover book had five printings by Doubleday. World paperback rights were sold, and the book has been translated into five foreign languages.
Neuharth is a frequent speaker across the USA and abroad to business, governmental, media and academic audiences. Based on personal interviews with 32 foreign heads of state, he addresses global issues and outlooks, but he also talks about personal philosophy, policy and style in getting ahead in life. Risk taking and its rewards. How to deal with bosses. How to turn criticism to advantage. How to rise to the top.
Neuharth was named the most influential person in print media for the 1980’s by Washington Journalism Review (now American Journalism Review). He was included in “1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium,” by Agnes Hooper Gottlieb, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers and Brent Bowers.
Neuharth started his career as a reporter on a small newspaper in his native South Dakota. After rising through the reporting, editing and management ranks of newspapers in South Dakota, Florida, Michigan and New York, Neuharth became Gannett president and chief operating officer in 1970; president and chief executive in 1973; and chairman, president and chief executive in 1979. While Neuharth was president and then chairman of Gannett, annual revenues increased from $200 million to $3.1 billion. The company has 21 years – 85 consecutive quarters – of uninterrupted earnings gains.
Neuharth was born on March 22, 1924, in Eureka, SD. 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 (SD) Journal. After graduating from Alpena High School, he served as a combat infantryman in WW II, where he was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war, he attended the University of South Dakota, where he majored in journalism. When he graduated in 1950, he joined The Associated Press in Sioux Falls, SD, as a reporter.
In 1952, he and a friend launched a statewide weekly tabloid called SoDak Sports. The newspaper failed financially. In 1954, broke and in debt, Neuharth got a job as a reporter on The Miami Herald. Over the next seven years, he was promoted from reporter through many editorial positions to assistant managing editor. In 1960, he was named assistant executive editor of the Detroit Free Press. Both are members of the Knight Ridder newspaper group.
Neuharth joined Gannett as general manager of its two Rochester, NY, newspapers in 1963. In 1966, he assumed the added role of president of Gannett Florida and started a newspaper, TODAY, later renamed FLORIDA TODAY.
Neuharth has been chairman and president of the Newspaper Association of America. He has received many awards in the profit and nonprofit sectors, including the Horatio Alger Award in 1975. He was the first male from the newspaper industry to win Women in Communications’ highest award, the Headline.
Neuharth is married to Dr. Rachel Fornes, a Cocoa Beach, FL, chiropractor. They have six adopted children: Alexis Rae Fornes-Neuharth, Karina Rae Fornes-Neuharth, Ariana Fornes-Neuharth, Andre Fornes-Neuharth, Rafaelina Fornes-Neuharth and Aliandro Fornes-Neuharth. Neuharth also has two children by his first marriage. Dan, a former journalist and university teacher, received his doctorate from the California Institute for Professional Psychology in San Francisco. Jan, who holds a law degree from Vanderbilt University, is president and owner of Paper Chase Farms in Middleburg, VA, and is a trustee of The Freedom Forum and the First Amendment Center.
Neuharth resided in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in a renovated log cabin called Pumpkin Center. He did his writing there in a beachside treehouse that overlooked the Kennedy Space Center launch pads. Neuharth continued to write a weekly column for the domestic and international editions of USA TODAY called “Plain Talk,” which also appeared in other newspapers and he had appeared on national television talk shows, including those hosted by Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, Larry King, David Letterman and Bob Costas.
On April 19, 2013 Al passed away at the age of 89 at his home in Cocoa Beach, FL after sustaining injuries from a fall.