Thursday, September 15, 2011
On Sept. 15, 1982, the media industry was forever smacked upside the head with the launch of daily general interest national newspaper USA Today. Founded by Gannett CEO Al Neuharth, it immediately stood out for bold, colorful graphics, polls and photographs; brief stories; and a focus on celebrity and sports.
Early reactions to the innovative read were snarky, mocking it as a shallow "McPaper, the journalistic equivalent of fast food," because of its brevity, cartoon-like appearance and color photos.
Popular legend claims that USA Today was designed as an antidote to somber Watergate-era press (led by The Washington Post and New York Times): to offer a daily read that entertained and soothed instead of slapping readers with the horrors of the world.
From the beginning, the paper was divided into four sections, as it still is: News, Money, Sports & Life. Its debut lead story focused on the death of Grace Kelly.
It is reported that the newspaper did not turn a profit until 1993 and survived for the ensuing 11 years only because it was supported by huge injections of capital from Gannett, under Neuharth's leadership. Today, it is the No. 2 daily, behind The Wall Street Journal, with a daily readership of 3.2 million readers and paid circ of 1.8 million. The newsstand price is a lofty $1.