In life, Allen H. Neuharth was frequently called an S.O.B. A term which he easily embraced, even titling one of his books ‘Confessions of an S.O.B.’ He wanted excellence from everyone around him and people knew he wasn’t always polite when asking for it. Though to Al, that’s not what being an S.O.B. meant. For him, an S.O.B. was someone willing to do whatever it took to rise to the top. Al was from the Midwest, so he knew sometimes it took kindness. However, he was also from poverty and loss, so sometimes it was grit and force of will.
Al was raised by his single mother in what is generally considered an unlikely birthplace for greatness: small town South Dakota. Watching his mother struggle to support their family while seeing men get more money for less work was the start of Al’s dedication to equality. Bearing witness to the racist views of South Dakotans as he grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s was the beginning of his lifelong fight against discrimination.
And fight he did.
We all know him as the man whose name is on a building, the Al Neuharth Media Center, but something a lot of people don’t know is why. Al attended USD, but his time here was simply a launch pad for him on his journey to achieving some of the greatest accomplishments in contemporary media.
Al rose to the top of publishing giant Gannett, where he proceeded to found USA Today, The Freedom Forum and the Newseum. Al exchanged awards with the likes of journalism great Walter Cronkite, with Al receiving the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism in 1988 and Cronkite receiving the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media in 1989. However, the best reason to celebrate Al is his lifelong championing of diversity.
At a time when journalism was white and male from the newsroom to the boardroom, Al hired people of color and women. Not only did he hire them, he supported and promoted them. He was a successful ally in a time when being an ally was still being defined. When faced with constant resistance from the white men already in power, Al made diversity into an offer that couldn’t be refused. He tied the annual bonuses of executives at Gannett to the success of Equal Employment Opportunity programs. Al made it clear to everyone who worked for him that success was multiracial and had no gender; it was for everyone.
Perhaps people say Al Neuharth was an S.O.B. because we as people don’t know a way to enact change without making others angry. Al fought for positive change in media from the very beginning of his career and the good old boys got mad. Despite this, Al didn’t just fight, he frequently won. The percentages of women and minorities at Gannett skyrocketed under Al’s leadership, and the rest of the industry was forced to take notice. However, Al’s triumphs weren’t for him, they were for us: diverse and dedicated members of a fair and free press who, of our own volition and with the support of Al Neuharth’s legacy, will rise to the top.
Current student efforts on campus continue Al’s dedication to truly creating a space in media for everyone. Diversity in Media & Entertainment (DiME) is a student organization that exists to create, support, and further diverse involvement in media and the Arts on campus. DiME also aims to educate about the importance of diversity and representation.
With meetings every Tuesday at 8pm in the Center for Diversity & Community, DiME is fueled by students, inspired by minorities, and uplifted by the knowledge that someone who started exactly where we are now went on to make such a difference. The organization offers the chance for members of the USD community to not only celebrate Al’s legacy, but to continue it.
S.O.B.s, the lot of us.