MCLEAN, Va.- The Gannett Co., Inc. newspaper USA Today will celebrate its 40th anniversary this September 15, 2022.
The newspaper debuted September 15, 1982, at a time when CNN and cable were ascendant, and the home computer was still a novelty. The subhead to the paper? Via Satellite.
The slogan for the 40th anniversary is “To the Point.”
Gannett’s campaign slogan for the anniversary is surprisingly bland; the image for the campaign is a strange man holding a megaphone, protesting something. The image released to Business Wire for the campaign has the slogan, “The point is not saying everything but everything that matters.”
The new campaign is called “To the point” and is done in collaboration with the ad firm Schafer Condon Carter. The campaign reports “how readers choose to consume news, they should always be left with a clearer picture of what’s happening and why to help them maneuver their lives.” The graphic released to Business Wire has the look of an uninspired Canva creation. But, to be fair, there are months ahead of the date so perhaps more inspired graphics are to follow.
USA TODAY will offer promotions, including a $40 annual subscription. The newspaper’s USA TODAY store will also unveil a commemorative collection of retro merchandise and special edition covers.
Bold Experiment in Journalism
USA Today was the invention of the late Al Neuharth, who was derided for what critics called “McPaper” when he launched it. The paper was a revolution, and its success came at a time when local newspapers were stripping out sections, cutting staffs and dumbing down layouts. In contrast to other dailies, USA Today was a bright, clear, product with four simple sections, namely News, Business, Life, and Sports. It had color throughout, and it came in new newsboxes that looked like a television.
The paper was popular with readers, but did not command advertiser attention. Neuharth brought in Publisher Kathleen “Cathie” Black to change the perception of the paper in the media sphere. One of the changes was firing Young & Rubicam, the launch agency. They then hired adman George Lois, who wanted to show that major players in the United States were all reading the paper.
The result was the unforgettable campaign and jingle “I read it every day.” The ads featured Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, NBC Weatherman Willard Scott, entrepreneur Charles Schwab, baseball legends Willie Mays and Mickie Mantle, and actress Diahann Carroll. In the commercials, each of the notables sang about reading the newspaper every day. They were doing what good advertising does, namely showing people using the product.
The early ads were cheery; below is an example from around 1986. Below:
Neuharth gave his papers to the the Library of Congress in 2005. He died in 2013, a year after the paper’s 30th anniversary.
Lifetime of Innovation
Neuharth was born in 1924 in Eureka, S.D. At age 11, he took his first job as a newspaper carrier, and later as a youth worked in the composing room at the weekly Alpena (S.D.) Journal. He graduated from Alpena High School and served as a combat infantryman in World War II, earning a Bronze Star. After the war, Neuharth attended the University of South Dakota and graduated with a journalism degree in 1950. He then took a job as a reporter for The Associated Press in Sioux Falls, S.D.
In 1952, he and a friend, Bill Porter, launched a statewide weekly tabloid called SoDak Sports. The newspaper failed financially, and in 1954 Neuharth took a reporting job at the Miami Herald. During the next nine years, Neuharth held important editor positions at the Herald and at the Detroit Free Press.
He joined Gannett in 1963 as general manager of its two Rochester, N.Y., newspapers, and in 1966, Neuharth assumed the added role of president of Gannett Florida and started a new newspaper, Today, later renamed Florida Today. In 1973, he was named president and chief executive officer of Gannett and chairman in 1979.
A Look Back at Visuals
Some great pictures from the 1982 paper launch were put together by a fellow named James Saylor. The video shows that what they did was complex, not only having to create the paper, but to figure a way to distribute it nationally, overnight, with thousands of boxes. Few remember that at the time, Gannett was not a giant company, and many thought the experiment would not work.
The Paper Today
In recent years, the paper has violated its early brand principle of not endorsing candidates for president. Somehow, the paper thought that readers would care what they had to say. However, the only thing that happened was that about 40 percent of the country wrote off the paper as not for them. They would do well to rescind their no endorsement policy.
The paper has also turned to advocacy journalism, which was not part of the original scope. This has taken the unifying “USA” part of the brand and eliminated it.
Clips and Videos
The company also launched an ill-fated TV show. Clips are below.
Below, the USA Today TV show open.
And a full run of the USA Today theme music , for anyone who wants a fix.
Earlier ad campaigns included the uninspired 2010 campaign “What America Wants.” It featured people holding up signs, asking for unbiased news.
A look at their first major redesign a decade ago, from their Youtube account.