VERMILLION, S.D. -- The 2008 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media will celebrate the grand opening of the Newseum by honoring Newseum Chief Executive Officer Charles L. Overby on Thursday evening, Oct. 9, at The University of South Dakota.
The Newseum is Washington, D.C.’s most exciting new attraction. The museum features five centuries of historic news events as well as cutting-edge technology and a very un-museum-like ability to respond to today’s breaking news with quick turnaround exhibits and programs.
Overby will be the 21st individual honored by the university and the Freedom Forum since the Neuharth Award program began in 1989. The award is named for USA TODAY and Freedom Forum founder Al Neuharth, a South Dakota native and 1950 graduate of USD. This year’s event will include a discussion with Overby about the challenges of launching a $450 million museum, which includes 14 galleries, 15 theaters, two broadcast studios and 135 interactive experiences. The evening also will feature "Rhythm and News," a live multimedia show and musical performance looking at the intersection of music, news and history.
The free event will begin at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 9, in Slagle Auditorium, 414 East Clark St., Vermillion, on the USD campus. Doors will be open for ticket-holders from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; general admission for any remaining seats will follow from 6:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Tickets (limit of five per request) are available in advance at the Al Neuharth Media Center or by specifying the quantity needed and sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Free Tickets, Al Neuharth Media Center, 555 Dakota St., Vermillion, SD, 57069.
The program will be televised live and statewide 7-9 p.m. Central Time on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.
Overby has a lifetime of achievements in the media, marked by his newspaper winning the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service while editor in Jackson, Miss., and later working as vice president of news and communications at Gannett. As the Freedom Forum’s chief executive since 1989, Overby teamed with USD President James Abbott to make the Al Neuharth Media Center a reality.
"Charles Overby’s most enduring accomplishment occurred this year, with the opening of the magnificent new Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington," said Al Neuharth. "That is a direct result of his vision, persistence, leadership and orchestration."
In its content, and by virtue of its location on historic Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and U.S. Capitol and adjacent to the National Mall, the Newseum sits at the intersection of history, news and politics. Overby’s career reflects a similar nexus.
He has served two stints in government: He was press assistant to Sen. John Stennis, D-Miss., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and special assistant for administration to Gov. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
He worked for 16 years as a reporter, editor and corporate executive for Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper company. As a reporter, he covered the White House, presidential campaigns, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Overby is a former editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. Under his leadership, the newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize Public Service Award for news and editorials on education reform in Mississippi in 1983.
Overby was vice president for news and communications for Gannett and served on the management committees of Gannett and USA TODAY.
Earlier this year, Overby told a reporter with Washingtonian Magazine, "I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a journalist. I took a high-school journalism course as an elective, and on the second day I remember turning to a friend and saying, 'If they pay you to do this, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.'"
In 1989, Overby was named president and chief executive officer of the Gannett Foundation. The foundation ended ties to Gannett Co. and was renamed the Freedom Forum in 1991. Overby added the title of chairman in 1997.
In addition to being chief executive officer of the Newseum, Overby is chairman, chief executive officer and president of the Freedom Forum, an independent, nonpartisan foundation dedicated to First Amendment and media issues, and the Diversity Institute, which is dedicated to recruiting, training, mentoring and retaining a diverse newsroom workforce. The Freedom Forum funds the operations of the Newseum and the Diversity Institute.
The original Newseum opened in Arlington, Va., in early 1997. In less than five years, the interactive museum about news and history attracted more than 2.25 million visitors. Overby and the leadership of the Newseum and the Freedom Forum determined that a new, larger facility could help the museum reach a larger audience with its message about the important role a free press plays in a democratic society. In 2001, the Freedom Forum acquired the last site available for development along historic Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House and began the development, design and construction of the Newseum complex.
The new and improved Newseum opened in April 2008. Highlights include the Berlin Wall Gallery — featuring the largest collection of pieces of the Berlin Wall — and galleries devoted to Pulitzer Prize-winning photography, world news, Internet, TV and radio news and the First Amendment. The News History Gallery uses historic front pages from the museum’s collection (of more than 35,000) to trace five centuries of events. The Today’s Front Pages Gallery features same-day newspaper front pages from around the world.
A traveling exhibit based on the Newseum’s popular Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, featuring 60 award-winning images covering war, politics, social issues and the power of nature, will be on display at the University of South Dakota in the Al Neuharth Media Center from Oct. 8 through March 15, 2009.
Past recipients of the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media include: Walter Cronkite (1989), Carl T. Rowan (1990), Helen Thomas (1991), Tom Brokaw (1992), Larry King (1993), Charles Kuralt (1994), Albert R. Hunt and Judy Woodruff (1995), Robert MacNeil (1996), Cokie Roberts (1997), Tim Russert and Louis D. Boccardi (1998), John Seigenthaler (1999), Jim Lehrer (2001), Tom Curley (2002), Don Hewitt (2004), Garrison Keillor (2005), Bob Schieffer (2006), and John Quinn and Ken Paulson (2007).
For more information about the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media, contact Jack Marsh, executive director of the Al Neuharth Media Center, (605) 677-6315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A photograph of Overby is available for download at www.usd.edu/urelations/images/CLOverby.jpg.