retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Al Neuharth, the longtime chairman/CEO of Gannett Co. who through force of will created USA Today and kept it alive through years of years of losses while simultaneously turning a chain of local newspapers into a diversified media conglomerate, died Friday. He was 89.
KC's View:
It so happens that both Michael Sansolo and I worked for Gannett in the late seventies/early eighties, and Michael actually had stories appear in USA Today; he will devote his column tomorrow to some thoughts about Neuharth's vision and leadership, and I don't want to step on his toes.

I think that legitimate criticisms can be made about the USA Today approach to journalism. To me, the issue was not so much that it "dumbed down" the news or was the journalistic equivalent of junk food, but rather than it made the assumption that every story could be told in short stories and few words. I don't think that's true. On the other hand, we now live in a time when communications often are measured in characters, not words ... and so it could be fairly suggested that Neuharth was ahead of his time.

For me, the worst sin that Gannett committed was its focus on the bottom line at the expense of experienced journalism. At least at the chain where I worked, reporters were paid terribly. In 1978, I started at about $7,600 a year. When I left after several years, I was making around $9,000 a year ... and they were thrilled to see me go, because they could replace me with a man or woman making $7,600 a year. I'm hardly the only former Gannett reporter who would make that observation, and I think it represents a bottom-line orientation that did not serve its newspapers and readers well.

That said, by the way, that first job as a newspaper reporter was the best job I ever had until this one. So for that, I'm grateful to Gannett for giving me a shot.