Al Neuharth, Diversity Champion, Dies at 89

A champion of diversity in the media industry passes away.

Allen H. Neuharth (USA Today TV)
Allen H. Neuharth (USA Today TV)

Allen H. Neuharth, who led the newspaper industry in championing diversity and made it possible for Robert C. Maynard to become the first African American publisher of a mainstream newspaper, died Friday at his home in Cocoa Beach, Fla. He was 89.

An obituary by Herbert Buchsbaum of the New York Times described Neuharth as “the brash and blustery media mogul who built the Gannett Company into a communications Leviathan and created USA Today, for years America’s best-selling newspaper” and noted, “In an industry long dominated by white men, Mr. Neuharth led the way in the hiring and promotion of women and minorities, tying compensation to hiring goals.

“By 1988 the proportion of minorities in Gannett newsrooms was 47 percent higher than the national average. Women accounted for nearly 40 percent of the company’s managers, professionals, technicians and sales agents and an unheard-of quarter of its newspaper publishers.”

A February 1992 article in  Black Enterprise magazine listing the “25 Best Places for Blacks to Work” said of Gannett, “total minority employment has progressed from 12 percent to 21 percent since 1980.”

Neuharth even believed that black Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke, who forced the Post to return a 1981 Pulitzer Prize when it was disclosed that Cooke had fabricated her winning story in that highly competitive newsroom, deserved a second chance. However, the Gannett paper Neuharth had in mind for Cooke, who left the Post in disgrace, reportedly balked at the idea.

Neuharth’s support for diversity “went from supporting individuals within the company to the Oakland Tribune, in particular when it mattered most,” Dori J. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, said by telephone.

Michael Liedtke wrote in the October 1991 edition of American Journalism Review:

Then-media tycoon Al Neuharth stood beside newspaper publisher Bob Maynard in mid-August to celebrate the salvation of the long-suffering Oakland Tribune, the two men hoped for a better ending than the first time they’d joined forces to rescue the newspaper.

“That was 1979, when the hard-driving Neuharth was chief executive officer of the ever-expanding Gannett Company. The newspaper firm had just purchased the Tribune and hired Maynard to edit it. Four years later, Maynard bought the paper from Gannett in one of the first leveraged buyouts of the 1980s and he and Neuharth parted ways.