Mr. Neuharth changed the look of U.S. newspapers by filling USA Today with breezy, easy-to-comprehend articles, attention-grabbing graphics, and stories that usually didn't require readers to jump to a different page. Sections were denoted by different colors. The entire back page of the front section had a color weather map of the United States.
"Our target was college-age people who were nonreaders. We thought they were getting enough serious stuff in classes," he said in 1995.
USA Today was unlike any other newspaper when it debuted. Its style was widely derided but widely imitated. Many news veterans initially gave it few chances for survival. Advertisers were at first reluctant to place their money in a newspaper that might compete with local dailies. But circulation grew. In 1999, USA Today edged past the Wall Street Journal in circulation with 1.75 million daily copies to take the title of the nation's biggest newspaper.
The launch of USA Today was Mr. Neuharth's most visible undertaking during more than 15 years as chairman and CEO of Gannett Co. During his helm, Gannett became the nation's largest newspaper company and the company's annual revenue increased from $200 million to more than $3 billion. He became CEO in 1973 and chairman in 1979. He retired in 1989.
Mr. Neuharth was proud of his record in bringing more minorities and women into Gannett newsrooms and the board of directors.
Before joining Gannett, Mr. Neuharth rose up through the ranks of Knight Newspapers Inc., a former owner of The Inquirer. He went from reporter to assistant managing editor at the Miami Herald in the 1950s and then became assistant executive editor at the Detroit Free Press.
After he retired, he continued to write "Plain Talk," a weekly column for USA Today.
He also founded the Freedom Forum, dedicated to free press and free speech, which holds conferences, offers fellowships, and provides training.