Remarks at the Fifth Anniversary Celebration of USA Today in Arlington, Virginia


September 15, 1987


Well, I thank you all, and I appreciate this opportunity to join in celebrating USA Today's fifth birthday. When you get my age, it always feels good to be celebrating someone else's birthday. [Laughter] So, right off the bat, let me say to Al Neuharth and John Curley, Cathy Black, and all of you who've played a role in this exciting endeavor: Congratulations and many happy returns!


All of this brings to mind the story -- something always brings to my mind a story. [Laughter] Maybe you being in the business have heard it already, but it has to do with the young cub reporter whose first assignment was to go out to the senior citizens home, where a man there, the oldest man in the community, celebrating his 95th birthday. And he came in, and of course the first was, ``I'm from the paper and all, to interview you,'' and then said, ``to what do you attribute your age, your longevity?'' And he said, ``I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't run around with wild women.'' And just then there was a terrible crashing noise upstairs, and the kid said, ``What's that?'' And the old man says, ``Oh, that's my father. He's drunk again.'' [Laughter]


Now, I don't know if any of you have been assigned to interview the oldest man in town, but I do know that USA Today is offering the American people a vibrant, new alternative. Your innovative journalism and use of high technology has literally altered the face of the newspaper business. It's no mere coincidence that since your paper hit the streets changes have taken place throughout the industry. More color photographs, extensive use of graphics, and better sports coverage can be found now in papers all across America. I even understand the Pulitzer board may change its award criteria because of USA Today and recognize the most creative news paragraph. [Laughter]


The success of USA Today and industry-wide improvements should be no surprise to those of us who believe in free enterprise. Competition keeps the quality up and the price down. And as we're well aware, USA Today is not just competing with one newspaper; it's up against papers in every major city in the country. It took great entrepreneurial courage for the leadership of Gannett newspapers to take on this challenge. Of course, it's not been all peaches and cream. There was that morning in October 1982 when an airliner cruised by just outside an editorial meeting. And what was really frightening was that those in the meeting were able to see through the windows of the plane as it went by and the passengers were reading the Washington Times. [Laughter]


Seriously, starting a new business of any kind takes a special breed of people. You can all be proud of what you've accomplished. Your success is truly a turning point in the news business. You're leading a whole industry into the 21st century. And again, thanks for letting me join your celebration. God bless you, and I'll be waiting for your paper in the morning. [Laughter]


Note: The President spoke at 7:30 p.m. in the boardroom at the USA Today Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Allen H. Neuharth, chairman, and John J. Curley, president and chief executive officer, of Gannett Co., Inc., and Cathleen Black, publisher of USA Today.