The Man at the Top  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   September 1997

The Man at the Top   

By James McCartney
James McCartney is a former Washington correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers.     

Related reading:
   » Emphasizing Enterprise
   » USA Today Grows Up


D AVID MAZZARELLA, 59 may not be a household name, even in the newspaper business, but USA Today's top editor is no stranger to journalism.

He began his career as a general assignment reporter with the Associated Press in its New Jersey bureau from 1962 to 1965, and later worked for AP as an editor and foreign correspondent. He became managing editor of the Rome Daily American, an English-language newspaper in Italy, in 1971. In 1976 he returned to the United States to join Gannett as foreign news editor of Gannett News Service. After a stint as editor and later publisher of Gannett's Bridgewater, New Jersey, Courier News, he joined USA Today in 1983 as general manager for the New York region.

Two years later he was appointed president of Gannett International, overseeing the international edition of USA Today. He became the paper's editor in 1995.

Under Mazzarella, the paper has put more emphasis on enterprise, creating a department to focus on exclusive reporting.

Mazzarella, whose main interest is in hard news, says he wants the new enterprise department to do ``investigations, to break stories and spot trends." And he also wants the paper to be competitive. At daily staff meetings with USA Today's department heads to analyze that day's content, Mazzarella compares the paper's national and international coverage to that of the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and Philadelphia Inquirer.

``We're trying to hire the best people," says Mazzarella. ``We're looking at people with good strong track records. We're trying to make the paper deeper and more sophisticated, for the whole personÉ. We're trying to make it more comprehensive." Does he believe the paper's continuing rise in circulation is related to changes in the editorial product? He replies: ``I hope so."

Mazzarella is known for his intense, no-nonsense personality and his strong personal commitment to improving the paper. Although considered somewhat aloof, he is highly respected by the USA Today staff. And at their daily meetings, editors do not appear to be afraid to speak their minds about what they see as the paper's shortcomings.

As for USA Today's role in the modern media world, he says the public now has to deal with ``a flood of information." ``We're bombarded with a bunch of crap in this day and age," he says. It's USA Today's job to sort through it all and help readers make sense of it.
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