• Last updated on November 10, 2022

USA Today, targeted at a general, less sophisticated audience than other national newspapers, was credited with an innovative strategy for successful journalism, even as it was criticized for lowering the standards of the journalistic profession.

In 1981, Allen Neuharth, AllenNeuharth, chief executive officer of the Gannett CompanyGannett Company, announced plans to produce a new national newspaper that would target a general audience. Newspaper industryIn an era when many newspapers had decreasing circulations, this plan to print another paper caused many people in the industry to doubt its business practicality. Despite this cynicism, Neuharth’s innovative paper USA Today rapidly gained a following and soon influenced other editors to adopt some of its features.USA Today

The original premise of the paper was not to replace local or national newspapers but to provide travelers, businesspeople, and the general public with a weekday paper that had an attractive, easy-to-read format. USA Today was to have deeper coverage of news, money, sports, and life than local papers generally provided, but it would feature more succinct articles than the New York Times and its competitors, as well as colored pictures and graphics and simple information boxes. Special features also were to include a front-page index and a color weather map. The paper was designed to be a commuter’s paper, featuring top news and sports stories.

The first edition of USA Today was launched in the Washington-Baltimore area. Soon thereafter, editions were available in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Denver. Over the next few months, the paper spread to other large cities, including Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle. Although not greeted equally well in each city, circulation grew substantially as distribution increased.

Allen Neuharth, the CEO of Gannett Newspapers, examines the first issue of USA Today on September 12, 1983.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Although the popularity of USA Today was quickly assured, many media reports continued to describe the paper with disfavor. They likened its format and content to the food served at fast-food chains, sometimes referring to USA Today as “McPaper.” During the first decade, readership increased, finally making it the most widely read newspaper in the United States, but advertising sales did not increase proportionally. In 1993, USA Today finally reported a profitable year. As the paper found its niche, increasing the depth of some of its news coverage and evaluating and analyzing new marketing opportunities, other newspapers followed its lead by adding color and increasing their leisure and travel sections.

USA Today grew to achieve a readership of 5 million people. Bed and breakfasts, hotels, airports, and other travel centers have come to rely on it as a standard media offering that is available both in print and online. Offshoots of the paper include Sports Weekly, USA International, and book and video projects. USA Today has become one of the most influential newspapers in the United States.

Further Reading
  • Prichard, Peter. The Making of McPaper: The Inside Story of “USA Today.” Kansas City: Andrews, McMeel & Parker, 1987.
  • Rider, Rem. “Against All Odds: Left for Dead by the Pundits, USA Today Celebrates Its Twenty-Fifth Birthday.” American Journalism Review 29, no. 5 (October-November, 2007): 4.

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