John K. Hartman
Author of The USA Today Way books
Source: Central Michigan University   Released: Fri 31-Aug-2007, 11:50 ET 

Expert Reflects on 25 Years of USA Today

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Central Michigan University journalism professor and USA Today expert John K. Hartman is available to speak with the media as the 25th anniversary of USA Today approaches.

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Newswise — Sept. 15 marks the 25th anniversary of USA Today’s founding. Central Michigan University journalism professor John K. Hartman, who authored two books regarding USA Today and has been invited to participate in the paper’s anniversary celebration Sept. 10 through 14 at American University in Washington, D.C., is available to speak with the media as the anniversary approaches.

Among Hartman’s thoughts on the subject:

Regarding potential competition for USA Today:
“Midway through its third decade, USA Today has reached a crossroads in print and online. While it is the United States’ best-read daily newspaper with a daily audience of 5 million, USA Today’s readership, advertising revenue and profitability have stagnated; it is suffering from the secular slump in the newspaper industry, and new, tougher competition is on the horizon as Rupert Murdoch takes over The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch, who once reportedly offered $1 billion to buy USA Today, will soon have the presses, staff, distribution system and office functions to challenge USA Today, either by changing the Journal to directly compete for general-interest news readers or by creating a second publication to take on USA Today and the other national newspaper, The New York Times.”

Regarding the finances of USA Today’s parent, Gannett:
“Gannett’s stock has fallen from a high of $90 a share four years ago to the high $40s. A company’s best-known property’s balance sheet tends to highly influence investors’ views of the entire firm. Gannett’s stock has held up better than most newspaper companies, some of whom are selling for one-third or one-fourth of their previous highs. USA Today’s first decade was dogged by losing money — Gannett had to put $1 billion in to keep the paper going — and by criticism by journalists that it was superficial in its coverage and looked like a ‘pizza.’ The second decade, 1992 through 2002, was positive, as the paper achieved profitability in 1993 and its use of color, short articles and heavy coverage of sports and entertainment was accepted and copied by other dailies.”

Hartman also can comment on USA Today’s online presence, which he says “has grown from negligible to more than 10 million different monthly visitors in a decade, second only to The New York Times”; the paper’s “popularity with younger adults,” which bucks the national trend toward older readership; the paper’s philosophy on diversity, which focuses on diverse hiring and attention to coverage of women and minorities; and other USA Today-related matters.

Hartman’s two books, “The USA Today Way” (1992) and “The USA Today Way 2 the Future” (2000), focus on the publication’s history, successes and challenges. A widely quoted authority on issues related to newspapers and online news, Hartman also researches free publications aimed at young adults and news readership issues.

John K. Hartman’s 25 reflections, factoids and speculations as USA Today turns 25:

1. USA Today is now mainstream; it’s no longer revolutionary.

2. USA Today is No. 1 in print readership.

3. USA Today is No. 2 in Web readership, behind only The New York Times.

4. Ad and other revenues are stagnant in print media, including USA Today.

5. Ad and other revenues are growing online, but not fast enough to make USA Today a hot growth property as it once was.

6. The paper’s entertainment section has achieved near parity with its sports section as the No. 1 draw of readership.

7. USA Today’s print version is less available than it used to be — it is spotty in some markets, with pullback from less populated areas that are less desired by advertisers.

8. The Rupert Murdoch-led Wall Street Journal may spin off a product to compete with USA Today as a national, general-interest newspaper.

9. USA Today still drives the news agenda for local TV and radio stations and, to a lesser extent, for national networks.

10. USA Today founder and Gannett Co. CEO Al Neuharth remains visible through his Friday column, but successor John Curley is virtually out of sight as professor of journalism at Penn State University. Younger brother Tom Curley did not follow the successor line and left the newspaper and company to become CEO of the Associated Press.

11. Al Neuharth went from a booster of Ronald Reagan’s presidency to major detractor of George W. Bush’s presidency.

12. USA Today’s influence on other newspapers through shorter articles and more graphic displays of information, pictures and design continues unabated.

13. USA Today now has a harder news edge, more investigative reporting and harder-hitting editorials than its earlier soft news and good news, and the paper presents both sides of an issue on the editorial page.

14. USA Today’s sports section is smaller because the younger audience gets info from the ESPN cable network and various sports Web sites.

15. USA Today has gradually become more like other newspapers, and vice versa.

16. USA Today may start a weekend edition if The Wall Street Journal, which started a weekend edition a year ago, steps up the competition.

17. USA Today has numerous partnerships with other media organizations.

18. Other Gannett newspapers are less expected to copy USA Today than in the past.

19. Rupert Murdoch may eventually try to buy USA Today to corner the market on national newspapers. He reportedly offered $1 billion for USA Today a decade ago.

20. USA Today may be the first print newspaper to come out with a 3-D “living version” as newspapers are portrayed in the “Harry Potter” movies.

21. USA Today’s core audience remains the 78 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. They are still likely to be newspaper readers, unlike younger folks. USA Today heavily covers their topics of interest these days: retirement, travel, leisure, grandchildren, caring for the elderly, second homes, career changes, health issues, health insurance issues, 401k’s, etc.

22. USA Today still remains a unique, one-of-a-kind newspaper.

23. Al Neuharth founded USA Today so he could have a “seat at the table” of major, influential publishers. He succeeded.

24. USA Today still lacks the identity that comes with carrying a major, influential, widely quoted columnist like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post all enjoy. Hiring this man or woman should be at the top of the newspaper’s to-do list. In the meantime it should bring back Larry King.

25. USA Today should start a free, national weekday newspaper and companion Web site aimed at young adults, who avoid traditional newspapers. It should be similar to free dailies started in major metropolitan areas the last five years.



John K. Hartman is a professor of journalism at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  He is the author of two books, "The USA Today Way 2: The Future" (2000) and "The USA Today Way" (1992).  He has examined much of the research done on young adult newspaper readership and is a widely quoted source on the topic.  Jacqueline Hartman provided editing assistance to the author.

In August 2008 Dr. Hartman covered and blogged the Democratic National Convention for the Mount Pleasant, Mich., Morning Sun. In 2008 Dr. Hartman was named the Al-Jazirah Newspaper Chair for International Journalism at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and visited the kingdom to lecture, teach and give seminars. He is scheduled to return in 2009. To learn more about King Saud University, visit

Copyright © 2009, John K. Hartman.  All Rights Reserved.