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Dick Thien, award-winning USA Today journalist

ST. LOUIS — Richard ‘‘Dick’’ Thien, a veteran journalist who played a pivotal role in developing USA Today for Gannett Co. Inc., has died. He was 73.

Mr. Thien died Friday of natural causes at Missouri Baptist Hospital in suburban St. Louis, his son, Mark Thien, said Monday. Mr. Thien was a two-time cancer survivor.

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In 1981, Gannett’s chief executive, Al Neuharth, chose Mr. Thien to be one of five prototype editors for USA Today, the nation’s first national general-interest newspaper that made its debut the following year. USA Today immediately made a splash with its colorful look, frequent use of graphics, and shorter, tighter stories, setting a trend followed by many newspapers around the world.

Mr. Thien was described in the book ‘‘The Making of McPaper: The Inside Story of USA Today,’’ as ‘‘a gruff, cigar-chewing type who barked like an old-time city editor.’’

The Associated Press named Mr. Thien one of the 12 best editors in the country in 1986. It was among many awards he won in a career that spanned more than four decades.

Mr. Thien worked at newspapers in several states and was a longtime coach in the Chips Quinn Scholar program for young minority journalists.

He leaves his wife of 50 years, Elaine; three children; and three grandchildren.

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