Saturday, August 27, 2011

Big Al | USAT fumbles on the one-yard editing line

In his $100,000-a-year-for-life column yesterday in USA Today, Founder Al Neuharth takes on the college football scandals at the University of Miami and Ohio State -- then squarely assigns responsibility.

"Whenever anything goes wrong at work or at play, the boss ultimately is to blame,'' he writes. "The boss at colleges or universities is the president. Not the athletic director or the coach."

At Miami, that would be Donna Shalala -- a fact Neuharth notes, even though he says it's "difficult," because he's known her personally for a long time. He then sums up her career in three sentences:

"Shalala has been Miami's boss since 2001. She came there after eight years in President Clinton's Cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services. Her educational administrative credentials include heading Hunter College in New York and the University of Wisconsin."

But as Anonymous@10:21 p.m. asks: "Anyone guess what salient piece of information he chose to omit?"

Me thinks 10:21 is referring to the fact that Shalala was a member of Gannett's board of directors from 2001 until just four months ago.

Now, USAT is generally good at reporting Gannett's role in news stories. That's a step quality newspapers take to alert readers to possible conflicts of interest. As a reporter there, I once wrote about lax supervision by the board of directors at GlobalCrossing, the bankrupt telecommunications giant. Appropriately, the paper disclosed in the story that then-CEO Doug McCorkindale was one of those board members.

Neuharth's columns, however, have always appeared to get very light editing. Yesterday's was one of the more egregious examples.

Earlier: Shalala's statement on Miami's football scandal.


  1. Keep nailing them coonskins to the wall, Jim.--LBJ

  2. I guess nobody told Dubow, Martore, Hunke et al. that "the boss ultimately is to blame"?

  3. Good post, Jim.
    Of course, you realize that credibility has an inherent cost.

    Which, for the bean counters, was easy to cut.

    Knowing what I do about the Peter Principle management at my local rag, and how they lie through their teeth, I can't imagine corporate puts any value in credibility.

    I've heard it said, "the bigger the company, the bigger the lies."

  4. I think the focus should be on how much more $100,000 a year could do if put to use by Gannett's struggling papers. Al evidently has no qualms raking in as much as he can even as the ship he built continues to sink.

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  6. 100k for Al for the rest of his life? This is why current USAT leadership has no problem paying meaningless senior execs to do very little. Al started it all.

  7. Wait a second. USAT still edits copy? Thought that was sort of "old school," you know along with accuracy, spelling and deadlines.

  8. Why would anyone think that Neuharth's columns would get edited? Are you kidding?

  9. There's no way Big Al still writes his own tripe. Any idea who his ghost writer is?

  10. Wait a minute, you guys.

    Al built that company from a podunk, not-much-more-than-a-half-a-dozen, small-town newspaper chain into the largest newspaper company in the nation. Not a small feat.

    And he founded USA TODAY - which has gone from a thriving national newspaper to a struggling piece of shit, under goofballs who can't find their asses with both hands & a road map.

    And, yeah - for that, he still gets a bunch of money. Why? Because he not only made a whole lot of people rich & very well-off & comfortable, he employed an awful lot of folks - at one point, numbering tens of thousands.

    You got a problem with that?

    So they still pay him a hundred grand per annum for his column.

    Know how that used to be done?

    Al would phone in & have a short conversation with somebody, who would then edit it beyond belief to fit into the allotted space.

    And you know what else?

    It's his baby.

    And ain't nobody on this green earth - at least in this country - done anything like it before or since.

    Again - you got a problem with that?

    Hey - if Al was still running that company, you'd all still have jobs & the stock would still be splitting twice a year & you'd all look like the friggin' pros from Dover.

    As it is, the company has been left in the hands of those who simply don't have the wherewithal or the street sense of a guy who fought for every goddam nickel in every goddam city & town & hamlet.

    I'm real sorry if this all sounds old school, but when Al cracked the whip, Gannett made a lot of money. And so did its employees & so did its stockholders.

    Bitch all you like, but I wish my retirement money was in Al's hands & not in those who are handling it now.



  11. 7:35, there are people in here every day to tell us spelling and accuracy don't matter. Jim is even one of them.

  12. 4:10 I don't think I've ever said accuracy doesn't matter. (It does.)

  13. You make excuses all the time for inaccuracy. If you had a decent system for archiving posts, I could find a few examples for you.

  14. You were one of the annointed ones who saved enough dough to walk away from the business. Jan Neuharth loves horses too. Big Al is a self-confessed SOB whose lackeys bought copies of his book in bulk to pretend that anyone cared. He made big money and lived big with a string of women and self-indulgent "capdes." USAT made money off the back of loaners from the middle of nowhere who were happy to spend a few months in the big city. He is not a likeable guy and created professional and personal heartache for too many. McPaper will fade away and not leave the kind of journalistic legacy you think it will. It might be hyped until the Newseum goes broke, but that's about it.

  15. 3:22 Good to hear someone say what I have been thinking. I have never understood the venom spewed at Neuharth on this blog. He built the company that the current board and execs are runnning into the ground. Is he a warm and fuzzy guy? probably not, did he deliver to his stock holders? Your damn right he did. I think if the current board and execs started to govern themselves with the mantra WWAD (What Would Al Do), we would all be in a better place.

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  17. Al was a lightweight. Dave Hunke is the answer.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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