I spent most of my youth wanting to be a reporter when I grew up. I’m not sure exactly where it came from. I like being at the center of the story, and I’ve always been a big Superman fan (his alter ego of Clark Kent was a mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, of course). In high school I was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and I attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. All with the intent of someday seeing my name in the New York Times.
Well, life has a funny way of making different decisions for you. And, it’s my non-Medill roommate from college who finds himself with a New York Times byline these days (with great stories here and here). But I still love the news business and everything it represents.
I finally had a chance to visit the Newseum in Washington, DC a few months ago for the first time. A museum that celebrates the history of the news medium – from print reporting to broadcast (radio and then TV) to today’s online journalism delivered via the web and social media. It’s a wonderful place to spend a day, and my wife (also a former journalism major) and I found ourselves captivated by exhibit after exhibit focused on the role of the news media literally across centuries.
Recently, the Newseum opened up a new exhibit focused on the movie “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” The movie, which stars Will Ferrell among others, focuses on the exploits of a news anchor in 1970s San Diego, and is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and go now. If you have, you probably know what I mean. The “plot” revolves around the introduction of a female anchor (played brilliantly by Christina Applegate) into the male-dominated world of the news and the conflict that it causes. The sequel, coming out in December, touches on the transition from local to cable news in the early 1980s.
The exhibit touches on both of these elements, attempting to use the publicity around the film to teach real lessons on the evolution of the TV newsroom in the 1970s and 80s. It’s also trying to sell tickets. It’s tough being a museum that charges admission in Washington, DC – with the Smithsonian offering so much to visitors for free. But, the Spy Museum seems to be doing it well. The Newseum, which moved into the city not long ago in a brand-new facility on prime real estate, does not seem to be doing well. Which leads its critics to challenge that the Anchorman exhibit is just a way to get more people in the door and may not be appropriate for a museum designed to honor and celebrate the actual newsmakers across generations.
I myself find this criticism itself interesting, given that you could make a case that the news industry in general finds itself at a similar crossroads. Is the purpose of networks like CNN, Fox News and CNBC to report the news – or to entertain their viewers? Perhaps that’s a story that the Newseum should be trying to tell – in fact, that’s their point on the exhibit. It’s okay to learn by entertaining – and once you’re inside and have explored the Newseum, maybe you’re more likely to tell your friends and return.
Personally, I can’t wait to see Baxter, take a photo on the set, and take my turn at being Ron Burgundy. In the meantime: