My Year at the Newseum

Jeffrey Herbst

Jeffrey Herbst

I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary as president and CEO of the Newseum. It has been an exhilarating year, and I am very proud to be part of the pre-eminent organization that explains, promotes and defends the five freedoms of the First Amendment. Thank you for making our work possible with your generous support.

My time at the Newseum has coincided with deepening national concern about the state of the First Amendment. Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post voiced the worries of many when she recently wrote that this is the most troubling time for free expression worldwide. We see journalists being coerced, campus debates being shut down, widespread controversy about the nature of religious freedom and a general unease about how citizens will be informed given the traumatic disruptions in traditional news sources caused by social media. Our own annual survey of public attitudes toward freedom, done in conjunction with USA TODAY, reveals that while the American people strongly support the ideal of free expression, only 39 percent of Americans could name even one of the five First Amendment freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Around the world, press freedom continues to decline.

The mission of the Newseum, therefore, has never been more important. We continually work to help Americans gain a better understanding of what freedom means in this contentious age, and we educate the public on how we can protect our foundational freedoms. The following is only a partial list of the programs and events we sponsored in the past year:

  • I had a widely publicized public conversation with FBI Director James Comey on national security and the First Amendment in November 2015, discussing an array of issues that would rise to even greater national importance after the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and the subsequent debates about encryption.
  • With funding from the Knight Foundation, we initiated a program on campus free expression. In April 2016, we gathered 50 student leaders to discuss what was occurring on their campuses, and we are now running a national competition to understand how some schools are able to resolve difficult problems without curtailing free expression. This fall, I will write a guide to promoting free expression on campus.
  • Our Religious Freedom Center began a series of courses using both in-person and online instruction to help civic and religious leaders navigate the intersection of religion and public life.
  • Our NewseumED program marked an important milestone by making digital resources focused on freedom available to 3 million students. Our most recent digital EDCollection focuses on the balance between national security and privacy.
  • We introduced our first exhibit devoted to exploring the new technology of virtual reality, which has the potential to become a new form of storytelling with significant opportunities for journalism. We also are planning a number of programs this year that will explore further advances in virtual and augmented reality.
  • We opened the new exhibit 1776 — Breaking News: Independence, which features the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, kindly loaned to us by David M. Rubenstein. On the walls surrounding the case displaying this rare newspaper, we tell the story of American independence through a graphic novel approach that brings a familiar story to a new generation in an exciting manner.
  • Our new partnership with the American Film Institute brought their renowned documentary film festival to the Newseum for five nights in June 2016.
  • To coincide with President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington in October 2015, we held Freedom Week at the Newseum and displayed Chinese-language banners on the front of our building in support of human rights in the world’s most populous country.

I also gave speeches across the nation on First Amendment issues and published op-eds in The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY and InsideHigherEd.com.

Moving forward, I am dedicated to keeping the Newseum at the cutting edge of national and international conversations about the meaning of — and threats to — freedom. With our outstanding building located at the very center of Washington and our committed staff, we are uniquely positioned to take on this role.

I look forward to seeing you when you visit the Newseum to see our exhibits, attend our programs and participate in our educational efforts. I would be delighted to discuss with you how together we can make sure that the First Amendment remains vibrant in the 21st century. Thank you for all that you do for the Newseum and its vital mission.

Best regards,

Jeffrey Herbst
President and CEO, Newseum

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