Sometimes Dreams Fade Before the Dreamer

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Editor's note: One day before we remember our veterans who have died to protect our freedom, we pay homage to a few business leaders who have recently passed away.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- One point drummed into my head during journalism school was that you're not a "real journalist" unless you work for a daily paper, that a journalist is someone who works for someone who buys ink by the barrel.

As I started my career, it was drummed into my head that America's status as a technology power rested on our making the most-necessary parts, the semiconductor chips, here at home.

Both these ideas seem quaint today, so the fact that the men behind those ideas died within 14 months of one another somehow seems fitting.

Former Gannett Chairman Al Neuharth, who passed away last April, was an avatar of the first idea. I still have my first-day copy of his USA Today, acquired at one of several parties staged to celebrate the event, up in an attic somewhere.

Neuharth was the very picture of a great newspaperman, the kind of guy you'd expect would be played by Humphrey Bogart. He was a public man who reveled in his notoriety, a journalist who rose through the ranks to become a publisher, then the hyper-acquisitive head of Gannett, and finally the creator of "America's Newspaper," launched at a time when even I could see the days of print journalism were numbered.

Neuharth saw "professional journalists" as a noble breed, above the fray, unbiased umpires, both priests and spies, whose first loyalty was to readers. This made him a hero to young people like me.

Yet even as he called us to this work, he knew, because he was a publisher, that his first loyalty was to advertisers, just as we knew that defying readers' prejudices was a sure way to get fired. There's one set of rules for working journalists, who are "people who work for people," and another for those they work for, who are governed only by the ethics of business.


Neuharth sold an image: Be like me. But even as he sold it (he retired from Gannett 1989), the image was disappearing like a fog, or a dream. It deserves note here that Gannett has survived the decline of print, and now includes a number of interesting Web properties.