Dear friends of the Newseum,
November marks my three-month anniversary as president and CEO of the Newseum. During that time, I have dedicated myself to getting to know the people who work in our magnificent building, engaged in many discussions with longtime supporters, and reached out in Washington and across the country to those who can provide wise counsel about our mission.
These have been exhilarating discussions. The Newseum is an extraordinarily healthy organization ideally poised to play an important role in addressing some of the most challenging problems our country and societies around the world face today. Across the country, there is an appreciation that the Newseum has become an integral part of Washington’s intellectual and cultural landscape, hosts numerous events celebrating and discussing First Amendment issues, and serves as a constant reminder of the importance, and fragility, of freedom in the United States and around the world. Unlike many Washington institutions, we cannot be placed on the political spectrum; our only objective is to defend and promote the five freedoms of the First Amendment.
In just the next few months we will:
At the same time, we seek to become even more actively involved in the central debates of our time. For example, there is great excitement, anxiety and confusion (sometimes all at the same time) about the technological disruption of the media and what it means for an informed citizenry. Will Americans and citizens of other countries become better informed simply because they have access to more information? What will happen to traditional forms of journalism, such as investigative reporting, when the news industry’s financial model is being challenged? How will our understanding of government accountability evolve as local news reporting seems to be particularly threatened?
In the post-Edward Snowden era, it also is clear that we have to wrestle with the enormous advantages that surveillance technology may provide for security while at the same time guarding against erosions of freedom. New technologies have surpassed our current understanding of regulation and oversight and we now must be as innovative in understanding the evolving nature of freedom as we are in developing the latest machines.
Many also are rightly disturbed about the decline of press freedom and free expression worldwide. Journalists increasingly are being threatened and a number of countries have defied previous predictions and developed measures to censor the Internet, either through elaborate technical means or the more traditional route of harassing and beating up bloggers. We have very little green — the color that denotes a free press — on our Time Warner World News Gallery map of world press freedom.
There is also a great desire for the Newseum to do more in the area of religious liberty. The headlines suggest that our society needs to think intentionally and constructively about issues of conscience and expression that threaten to divide us. Overseas, we see that many countries have been ripped asunder by an inability to tolerate religious pluralism, and other societies are threatened.
This is not a complete list of the issues that our friends and informed observers note, but they do give some idea of how important our mission is and the high hopes that many have for the Newseum to play a leading role in issues where few neutral actors play.
Our mission is respected and secure. However, there is a great need and an opportunity for us to be even more active, public and forward-looking to promote freedom. We will meet this need through a variety of means that are uniquely available to the Newseum:
An early indication of how I am demonstrating that the Newseum can be out in front came with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington in September. China’s record on press freedom, free expression and the exercise of religious liberty is terrible and has actually become worse under Xi. We developed a multimedia campaign to bring attention to the plight of freedom in China.
These efforts, funded, in part, by the generous contributions of some of our longest-standing members, were supported by a dedicated staff who responded with energy and ingenuity to a set of initiatives that were unprecedented for our organization. Worldwide response was gratifying and informative:
We will continue to be nimble and innovative in developing new tactics to protest violations of freedom when opportunities present themselves. At the same time, we will act strategically to develop sustained efforts to address challenges that our supporters and critical members of our society believe we are uniquely able to address.
I hope that you will look to us as a primary resource for the issues that you think are most relevant to our foundational liberties. Your suggestions, challenges and support will be especially helpful to me as we chart the future of the Newseum.
I look forward to working with you. It will be a great journey.
President and CEO