Al Neuharth (1924-2013), a lifelong journalist and First Amendment advocate, founded the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation that champions the First Amendment as a cornerstone of democracy, on July 4, 1991.
Neuharth was chairman of the Freedom Forum until 1997. He had been a trustee of its predecessor, the Gannett Foundation, from 1965 to 1991, and was chairman from 1986 to 1991.
In 1982, he founded USA TODAY, the nation’s most widely read newspaper. And he was chairman and CEO of the Gannett Co. in the 1970s and ’80s.
Neuharth was born on March 22, 1924, in Eureka, S.D. At age 11, he took his first job as a newspaper carrier. Later, as a young man, he worked in the composing room at the weekly Alpena (S.D.) Journal. After graduating from Alpena High School, he served as a combat infantryman in World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
After the war, Neuharth attended the University of South Dakota, where he majored in journalism. When he graduated in 1950, he joined The Associated Press in Sioux Falls, S.D., as a reporter.
In 1952, he and a friend launched a statewide weekly tabloid called SoDak Sports, which failed financially. In 1954, broke and in debt, Neuharth got a job as a reporter at the Miami Herald. During the next seven years, he was promoted from reporter through many editorial positions to assistant managing editor. In 1960, he was named assistant executive editor of the Detroit Free Press.
Neuharth joined Gannett as general manager of its two Rochester, N.Y., newspapers in 1963. In 1966, he assumed the added role of president of Gannett Florida and started a new newspaper, TODAY, later renamed Florida TODAY.
Neuharth authored eight books. His New York Times-bestselling autobiography, “Confessions of an S.O.B.,” has been translated into five languages.
Neuharth died on April 19, 2013, in Cocoa Beach, Fla., where he and his family lived in a renovated log cabin called Pumpkin Center. He did his writing there in a beachside treehouse that overlooked the Kennedy Space Center launch pads.
Neuharth is survived by his wife Dr. Rachel Fornes, their six children, two children from his first marriage and four grandchildren.
“Free press, free speech and free spirit. These are the guiding principles of the Freedom Forum. The first two are easy to grasp.
Free Press: the freedom to print or broadcast without censorship.
Free Speech: the freedom to speak without compromise.
Free Spirit is harder to define. Free spirits dream, dare and do. A free spirit can also be a risk-taker, a visionary, an innovative leader, an entrepreneur or a courageous achiever who accomplishes great things beyond his or her normal circumstances.
The Freedom Forum is committed to nurturing freedom across the USA. We hope the information on this website will inspire you to join in our mission to promote free press, free speech and free spirit for all people.”
— Al Neuharth