Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Allen H. Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, is a self-made multimillionaire who has never forgotten his South Dakota roots. Neuharth's pioneering use of a lighter, brighter style, coupled with a heavy reliance on color and graphics, changed the face of the American newspaper. He also is the founder of the Freedom Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media foundation dedicated to free speech and free press for people around the world.

Born on March 22, 1924, in Eureka, South Dakota, Neuharth watched his mother, Christina, struggle to make ends meet and raise two young children after his father, Daniel, died when Neuharth was a toddler. Neuharth later would describe his mother as the first victim of discrimination he knew; her plight, and that of the state's Native American population, had a profound impact on him.

After Daniel Neuharth's death, the family moved to Alpena so Christina could be near her family. It was there that young Al got his first taste of newspapering, as a delivery boy and later in the composing room of the weekly Alpena Journal. He graduated from Alpena High School and enlisted in the army, serving with General George Patton as a combat infantryman in World War II. He received the Bronze Star.

Following the war, Neuharth took advantage of the GI Bill to attend the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he majored in journalism and served as the editor of the college paper, the Volante. After graduating, Neuharth and a friend founded a statewide tabloid called SoDak Sports that lasted only two years before folding. Neuharth attributes that early failure with giving him the courage to take chances and achieve success later in life.

After a series of reporting, editing, and management jobs at newspapers around the country, Neuharth joined Gannett in 1963 and ultimately became president, chairman, and chief executive officer of the company. It was at Gannett that Neuharth founded USA Today and became a vocal advocate for the hiring, training, and promotion of women and minorities.

Neuharth makes frequent trips back to his native state, including an annual visit to the University of South Dakota campus for the presentation of the Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism to a prominent print or broadcast journalist. A two-milliondollar gift from the Freedom Forum in 2000 enabled renovation of a building that was named for Neuharth and houses the Department of Contemporary Media and Journalism, the student newspaper, TV and radio facilities, the Freedom Forum Neuharth Center, and all other media operations on the campus. Through the Freedom Forum, Neuharth also has been instrumental in establishing professional development and recruitment programs for Native American journalists and in providing support for the Crazy Horse Monument in the Black Hills.

Neuharth has two grown children from his first marriage. He and his current wife, Dr. Rachel Fornes, reside in Cocoa Beach, Florida, with their six adopted children.

Cheryl Arvidson Freedom Forum Newsroom

Boye, Will. "The Most Notable Ambassadors of Diversity 2001." Proud (winter 2001): 13–23.

Neuharth, Allen H. Confessions of an S.O.B. New York: Doubleday, 1989.

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