The Way We Were

April 3, 2016   Hours spent building to date: 2,338.

The real Tardis Project blog will follow immediately after this post, but I know many of you who read this know me from my past life, so I thought I would reminisce a bit about the wonderful week we had in Florida at a reunion of about 60 people who in some way had a role in the launch of The Nation’s Newspaper, USA Today.  It was also a tribute to our boss Al Neuharth, Chairman of the Gannett Company and the King of Cocoa Beach, who died in 2013, not long after my son John and I passed through Cocoa during our 6,000-mile Great Loop Trip on Memsahib.

It was so great to see such a talented, vital group of people and the stories were non-stop.  Everyone seemed to be doing well, so I am once again convinced that among the secrets to longevity must be working too hard, drinking too much and a discrete amount of fooling around…at least for those who could still show up.

This was a busy trip with non-stop visits from Orlando to Miami.  So I didn’t think overly much about my time in Cocoa Beach 36 years ago.  But when John and I passed through, that’s all I thought about.  So after the pictures, I’ve reposted an excerpt from Memsahibs Voyage about our time in Cocoa.   I’ve probably written millions of words during my life.  Very few read truer than these.

Frank Vega, circulation guru. He pressed the button and circulation went to 2 million. Larry Sackett, technology whiz. He pressed the button and satellites delivered USA Today around the world. Marketing/Advertising guy. I pressed the button and we lost close to a billion dollars.

Frank Vega, circulation guru. He pressed the button and circulation went to 2 million. Larry Sackett, technology whiz. He pressed the button and satellites delivered USA Today around the world. Marketing/Advertising guy. I pressed the button and we lost close to a billion dollars.

The original converted office where a handful of us planned USA Today is now a brew pub. Very appropriate.

The original converted office where a handful of us planned USA Today is now a brew pub. Very appropriate.

Al, Larry and me at the 25th anniversary in 2017.

Al, Larry and me at the 25th anniversary in 2017.

Christmas 1981. Frank is in the middle of the back row with his wife Linda. Moe Hickey, our first publisher is to his right. The beautiful lady in front is Donna Rome, our hostess and one of the first people on the Washington staff.

Christmas 1981. Frank is in the middle of the back row with his wife Linda. Moe Hickey, our first publisher is to his right. The beautiful lady in front is Donna Rome, our hostess and one of the first people on the Washington staff.

From Memsahibs Voyage, March, 2013

“I have very mixed feelings about my year in Cocoa Beach. Professionally it was challenging, exciting and a chance to create something that had never been done, and most said could never be done. Every day was an adrenelin rush.  Personally, we had many great times, but there was a lot of conflict on the team, and the creative stress of working so close to Al Neuharth was huge.  I was living in luxury, in beautiful surroundings, but during my nightly strolls on one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, I thought of nothing but USA Today.

The aftermath was much better. Before and during the launch our story became part of the Gannett public relations machine, and the “Four Young Geniuses” were jetted out to Gannett functions, board meetings, the White House and to Europe for “exploration” of the international edition of the paper. It was easy duty, because Al did all the talking and we were just to keep quiet and look like we knew what we were doing.  I met and married Molly (who I had hired to run ad research and planning for USA Today) and had further adventures with the founding of USA Weekend and Gannett Media Sales.

But in 1988, I did a complete 180-degree career turn, left Gannett and worked for a series of funky, new-idea, smaller companies and start-ups. My friends couldn’t understand why I would do this, but I was increasingly uncomfortable at Gannett. Al was leaving and I just couldn’t establish any rapport with his successor John Curley and his brother Tom, my contemporary. The crazy growth period of the company was over, and hard-nosed, bottom-line managers were needed much more than absent-minded professors.  I am the world’s worst manager because I hate to manage. I detest telling other people what to do, couldn’t discipline an earthworm, and it is my firm policy to ignore all memos from Human Resources.

But today as I revisited the barber shop, walked the beach with John and talked to an old codger at my beach-front apartment, I dug down and unearthed another reason for my leaving Gannett. As the memories washed over me, I tried to bring back my friends, specific events, momentous decisions about USA Today. But I couldn’t. They were all drowned out by my vivid memories of one man, Al Neuharth. He is still alive and living in Cocoa Beach, and to me his aura still overwhelms the place.  I must have told John a half-dozen Neuharth stories – which he seemed to enjoy very much.

I was a tiny cog in the big Gannett machine, but I think in my subconscious I couldn’t imagine the machine without Al pulling the levers. In terms of personality, we were total, polar opposites and I was terrified of him. In terms of substance, Al Neuharth dreamed great dreams and did great deeds and without acknowledging it, I bought into his charisma hook, line and sinker.

So once more I owe a great debt to Al, since without that turn, I wouldn’t be here now having the best time of my life, on the most beautiful boat in the world, with John, the best crew ever.”

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2 comments on “The Way We Were

  1. Richard Curtis, USATODAY 1982-2009
    April 4, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    Enjoying reading your blog, having begun after learning about it at the Cocoa reunion two weeks ago. By sheer coincidence, I was just at the point of reading your original blog entry when this update arrived. One very small correction: I am certain that Al would correct your caption about “losing” a billion dollars. He always said it was an “investment!” So good to see you again, and let’s agree that it should not be as long again.

    Like

  2. Jim Favors
    April 4, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    Wonderful insight into your past Paul, thanks for sharing.

    Like

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