American pie: Case histories, comment ... and why we're not the USA

Oct 05, 2008 at 09:50 pm by Staff

An imposing new edifice now stands in Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue. But is it Newseum or museum; memorial to the newspaper industry’s past glories or signal of hope for the future? What, for that matter, is going on in the so-called land of the free ... and can we learn from it? References to the US market currently recur in every newspaper conference held around the world ... yet US newspapers are in turmoil. Conservative and confounding, it’s the market we most resemble and yet most differ from. Local speakers at this month’s PANPA conference (starts page eight) took time to both discuss and differentiate Australia’s market from the USA. Brian Tierney – who was lucky to find friends with money to help him turn around the ailing ‘Philadelphia Inquirer’ – shared lessons learned the hard way ... while media economist Peter Cox tartly dismissed the idea that we could learn from America as a “complete waste of time”. But like it or not, there’s no escaping the influence of what happens across the Pacific. As GXpress went to press, the impact of deeper problems in the US – the collapse of Lehrman Brothers and the Merrill-Lynch firesale, atop the subprime follies which led to the Freddy Mac and Fanny Mae bale-outs – reverberate down under. A huge US Treasure package has been announced, but risks becoming a political football. Locally, updates, automation and productivity measures have – as Fairfax’s Bob Lockley observed at PANPA – helped put Australia’s printing plants in pretty good shape. New ideas are helping reinvent and reinvigorate local publishing businesses at other levels. But the challenges cannot be ignored, and we need to learn what we can from the American experience, while taking the opportunity to exploit the unique characteristics of this ‘lucky country’. Apart from the PANPA reportage, we’ve gathered in this issue earlier case histories and some post-Nexpo observations of our own. So is it pile or pie, which as every letterpress printer knew, could mean a mess or a miscellany? We won’t search for deeper meaning in Don McLean’s classic lyric than that in Buddy Holly’s untimely demise. References to “a generation lost in space” and bad news in “every paper I’d deliver” seem apposite, however. The music didn’t die ... and neither is the US newspaper industry about to do so, although what seems like neglect is putting it under severe strain. And here at home, there’s cause for optimism and we think, a good deal of confidence. A US$500 million assertion of the freedom of the press Benefactors chipped in more than US$100 million of its half-a-billion cost, many of them in a late last year, so it’s hardly surprising that Washington’s Newseum missed its original deadline But (surprise, surprise) it was ready just a couple of days before the Nexpo/NAA/ASNE circus hit town ... and the venue for a memorable reception. Executive director Joe Urschel – a former ‘USA Today’ editor – describes it as the world’s most interactive museum and a ‘must-see’ in the city from day one. If you’re in the media business, It would certainly be worth a visit ... especially given that there’s the chance of getting a lot closer than you might to the White House or Capitol Hill. Good place to view the DC landmarks from, in fact, its ‘outside-inside’ architectural concept delivering an impressive panorama. But that’s not what you’d be there for: There are 23,000 m2 of exhibits, 15 theatres, two broadcast studios and 14 galleries in the seven level building. Apart from the huge glazed façade, a 22-metre marble tablet with the 45 words of the First Amendment is in keeping with its Pennsylvania Avenue position. Chief executive Charles Overby describes the mix as “ a unique blend of fun and inspiration,” and the opening brought a week of special events and activities. Or you can just find your own way around ... browsing electronic versions of the world’s newspapers, watching news break on a screen measuring 12 metres by seven, pretending you’re a TV news reporter, or just taking in the mass of media history. Galleries include eight sections of the original Berlin wall (and a tower from near Checkpoint Charlie) and photographs from every Pulitzer prizewinner since 1942. Largest is News Corporation news history gallery, which features more than 350 historic newspaper front pages, newsbooks and magazines as well as artifacts such as a hotel door from the Watergate burglary, slippers worn by the ‘Wonkette’ as she wrote her blog, and the script from the first ‘60 Minutes’ broadcast. The six-year project was backed by the Freedom Forum, a US foundation dedicated to a ‘free press, free speech and free spirit for all people’ which has as its priorities the Newseum, the First Amendment and newsroom diversity.
Sections: Columns & opinion


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