Distinguished Poynter Institute faculty member Roy Peter Clark has written quite an obit for Gannett’s former CEO and USA Today creator Al Neuharth who died in April.
Clark says Newharth’s “high-flyin,’ limousine-ridin’ approach to news-media leadership helped create an oligarchy atop Gannett that seemed to place more value on self-promotion and executive salaries than on a common good grounded in excellent news coverage. The result was a hegemony of mediocrity that remains Neuharth’s unfortunate legacy.” Clark blames Newharth’s focus on profit at any cost and viewing editors as “interchangeable parts” who were moved around and never got to know the communities they worked in. To this day, every time I see USA Today, I am reminded of its nickname: MacPaper. Like McDonald’s hamburgers, it tastes the same everywhere but belongs to nowhere. And, like McDonald’s version of the American classic, the hamburger, it reduces everything to the lowest common denominator. And, I am saddened that many children may never know what a real hamburger tastes like. Or a great newspaper reads like. Thanks to “visionaries” like Al Neuharth.