Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Washington Social Diary

Hard hats at the ready in the penthouse room of The Newseum where lunch was served.
by Carol Joynt

More than any world capital, Washington is a city of memorials and museums. After government, it’s what we do here. The Louvre in Paris ranks number one in the world, but right after it is Washington’s National Air and Space Museum, with about five million visits a year. Adjacent to it on the green grass of the Mall are the nearly as popular National Gallery of Art, the Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History. Soon, there will be a new kid on the block and it hopes to become Washington’s hottest ticket. It’s called The Newseum.

It has been quite a few years in the making but is not altogether new. There was a first edition of the Newseum opened by USA Today founder Al Neuharth in suburban Virginia in the 1990s. Like the newspaper, it was a sort of Disneyesque tribute to news-gathering but, more importantly, a huge success. Tourists crossed the Potomac River and visited in droves.
Clockwise from top left: The Newseum, on the last large parcel of available land on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and White House; Shelby Coffey helps himself to the pre-tour buffet lunch courtesy of Wolfgang Puck; Two views of the giant interior high definition television, which will broadcast the world's major news events.
Clockwise from top left: The future site of the crumpled broadcast tower that once sat on top of the north tour of the World Trade Center. Behind it, a wall of front pages from Sept. 12, 2001; The first TV news satellite truck, used in Minneapolis-St. Paul; Only some of the Sept. 12, 2001 front pages from all over the world; Shelby Coffey and Paul Sparrow lift the cover off a shot up Time Magazine armored truck used by reporters and photographers in the Balkans.
The journalism industry embraced it as the means to promote the history and significance of its role in a democratic society. Before long the Newseum’s overseer, The Freedom Forum, recognized their prize attraction needed more seriousness of purpose, space and an important downtown location. With the help of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and the city’s then-mayor, Anthony Williams, plus one hundred million dollars – largely from the Freedom Forum plus some powerful media Founding Partners – they got the last large piece of available land on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House. It is as prime a location as any museum could hope to have.

It’s also only a five-minute walk from Air and Space, so the numbers competition between the two should be fierce, though slightly skewed by the fact the aviation museum, like most Smithsonian museums, is free and the Newseum will charge a fee. The ticket price hasn’t been set, but management notes the $15 charged by the city’s popular Spy Museum. The fee will get buyers a reserved entry time, which can be useful during the Spring and Summer tourist crush.
A replica of the first satellite to beam news from one part of earth to another. Paul Sparrow with the Newseum's very large section of the Berlin Wall.
A "newsline" of iconic television repots available at the touch of a screen.
For now, though, the Newseum is a construction site, and a behind-schedule one at that. A gleaming glass and steel structure on the outside, on the inside there are cranes, packing crates, plastic-draped exhibitions, jackhammers and drills and teams of workers hard at the task of pulling together the last bits and pieces of what hopes to be the most media intensive museum in the world.

It was to open last October, but now the grand unveiling is scheduled for May. A dozen social events were amended – among them the 60th anniversary of “Meet the Press” – but delays are the norm with construction projects, even those that cost an estimated $435 million. From what we saw, though, the wait, and costs, are worth it.
Clockwise from top left: From 1977, the Defense Department's original map of the "Arpanet," the predecessor to a little something now known as the "internet"; An inter-active test with questions about ethics in news-gathering; There are many state of the art control rooms (3).
Expensive studio cameras, ready to be used. Perhaps for a presidential debate?
Many quotes are carved into the Newseum's walls.
Three of the Newseum’s top planners took time out from a busy weekday to give me a “hard hat” tour of the facility. Well, we didn’t actually use the green hardhats, but they looked handsome side-by-side on the table where we first had a buffet lunch, courtesy of one of Wolfgang Puck’s many kitchens, along with a penthouse view of the Capitol.

Puck’s newest restaurant, The Source, is a glamorous part of the complex. My guides were Mary Kay Blake, a senior vice president of The Freedom Forum, Shelby Coffey III, a member of the board of trustees and a former editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times, and Paul Sparrow, the veteran producer in charge of the museum’s important broadcasting component and its programs. For Paul and me it was a reunion. We worked together as producers in the 1980s on the start-up (and ultimate crash and burn) of USA Today’s attempt to do a TV version of itself. Fortunately for Neuharth, the Newseum has been a more promising endeavor.
Clockwise from left:

Rolls of architectural and design plans.

A worker takes a pause from sanding.

Staff meet to review notes and plans.

The backdrop for what will be the set of ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
Even in its current half-baked state, it was clear the Newseum’s designers – Polshek Partnership Architects and Ralph Applebaum Associates - have created an outstanding attraction that is comprehensive, engaging and awe-inspiring. There are loads of irresistible inter-active features, including the opportunity for visitors to be the virtual correspondent in a TV news report.

Many of the artifacts on display illustrate the perils of journalism in chilling reality: an armored Time Magazine truck shot up in the Balkans, the vehicle in which organized crime reporter Don Bolles was killed by a planted car bomb, murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s laptop, wounded ABC anchor Bob Woodruff’s flak vest, the crumpled broadcast tower that once sat atop the north tower of The World Trade Center. Add to that dozens of Pulitzer-winning photographs, hundreds of front pages, hours of iconic broadcast news moments, and a ceiling high memorial to the journalists who died doing their jobs. There is a theater, one of 15, so ahead of the curve it’s not 3-D but 4-D.
Mary Kay Blake under an umbrella on the Newseum's impressive rooftop terrace, expected to become one of Washington's most coveted party locations.
A view from the rooftop terrace, looking toward the Capitol. To the right is the National Gallery of Art's pink marble East Building.
The Ethics Center is particularly compelling. At the sweep of a hand, a front-page story is transposed into an ethics question with multiple-choice answers. For example, the high school valedictorian slips up and uses an expletive in her commencement speech.

Do you include that detail in the story? I chose, “Yes,” because it happened and added color. “Incorrect,” the display shot back; the expletive should be omitted from the story because it was said accidentally. Hmmm. This launched a debate between me, Shelby, Mary Kay and Paul, which is exactly what they want to occur as visitors test their news judgment.
Clockwise from top left: The names on the memorial wall date from 1837 to the present with, unfortunately, space to be updated; A wall memorializing the names of news reporters killed while doing their jobs; Paul Sparrow explains that when visitors record a news report they will stand in front of a "blue" screen, which will enable the backdrop to be almost any global news event; A row of "sets" where Newseum visitors can pretend to be on-camera correspondents; Final touches on the world map of press freedom - where it exists and where it does not.
A control room monitor where young and old can put themselves in the story. The Annenberg Theater. The re-enactments of major news stories shown here won't be merely 3-D. They will be 4-D.
The broadcast facilities within the museum are daunting. There are real TV studios and real control rooms – in fact, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos will broadcast his Sunday show, This Week, from there - and they hope to produce many public affairs and news programs. One could easily see Presidential debates as a natural for the site. They hope their giant high definition LED TV screen – literally, almost the size of the building’s Great Hall itself, and visible from the street – will become iconic to the broadcast of major news events in a way that once was served by the multi-screens in Grand Central Station.

There is no doubt visitors to the Newseum will be informed, educated and, important to modern museums, entertained. They will come away with a good understanding of the who, what, where, when, why and how of the news business and the meaning of “freedom of the press.”
Our "tour guides," Paul Sparrow, Mary Kay Blake and Shelby Coffey III.
Shelby Coffey III, the former editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times, now helping to guide the Newseum toward it's spring opening. In a city of museums and memorials; the view from the Newseum's roof terrace toward the National Gallery of Art's West Building, the Smithsonian Castle, the Museum of Natural History and the Washington Monument.
Living moments of world history will be available at the touch of a button. They will be able to participate in the process. They will be awed, they will be moved, and they will be amused. It will be Washington’s hot ticket. But couldn’t someone have come up with a more dignified name for an industry that while not always dignified is certainly important and honorable? You know, perhaps, The Museum of News? Or The Museum of Print and Broadcast Journalism? Or even the News Museum? A too clever by half name like Newseum is sort of like calling a hospital the Doctorium or the Holocaust Museum the Jewseum. For what it’s worth, they do have a subname, “The Interactive Museum of News.” Not the distance, but a first step.

Regardless of the name, mark a date on the calendar for a spring visit to Washington to see the new Newseum. Track its progress at
Clockwise from top left: The Newseum will have news history on the inside, and displays of the day's current news on the outside (3); Along this wall will be a daily exhibition of front pages from all over the world.

The Four Seasons is Washington’s top hotel. I’ll likely get a few phone calls from friends at other fine hotels when that sentence is published, but by the sheer power of it being the city’s only Mobil 5 star hotel, consistent praise in the travel press, and its prime location in Georgetown, the Four Seasons pulls rank.

Everyone in Washington uses the Four Seasons for one reason or another, whether it’s the weekday “power” breakfast, afternoon tea, cocktails in the lounge, a quiet dinner, help from their topflight concierge staff, a massage at the spa or a place to stash Granny while she’s in town from Omaha. That’s why it matters when a new public relations director takes over, as Liliana Baldassari did last week. The Four Seasons tossed a party to welcome her, and a broad mix showed up to say “hello,” have a martini or champagne and nibble on caviar and other canapés.

Four Seasons power line-up: Tiffani Caillor, Liliana Baldassari, and Debra Silvi
At least Liliana knows what to expect in terms of coming winter weather. While a native of Cali, Colombia, she attended the Cornell Hotel School and worked in the Washington hotel for 3 years after graduation. In the meantime, she’s been Public Relations director at the Four Seasons in Miami. Beats me why anyone would leave the Miami climate for Washington, but at least she will have the excitement of a campaign year and a coming inauguration (more about that in next week’s WSD).

Liliana replaces Tiffani Cailor, who moved to New York to oversee PR for the new Four Seasons Resort in Costa Rica, which they hope to position as a popular family destination. Therefore, the party was also a farewell to Tiffani, and included many of her friends from media, fashion, politics, government, and the friendly competition.

Sampling the gingerbread martinis and flutes of Moet were Four Seasons marketing chief Debra Silvi, Katie Rackoff and Avi Kichel of Park Hyatt Hotels, Sarah Crocker of Kimpton Hotels, Renee Sharrow of Mandarin Oriental, and Mark Indre of Marriott International; MSNBC’s political editor, Lauren Vicary, TV news producers Lauren Vance, Scott McCrary, and Sean McGarvy; Tom Heath of The Washington Post and Sherry Moeller of Capitol File magazine; Maria Trabocchi of Ralph Lauren, Heather Guay of Bloomingdales, and Janine Graebe of CUSP, Michael Allen from the White House, Kathyrn Minor from the Department of Homeland Security, blogger Pamela Sorenson, Holiday Hayes from Morgan Stanley; Margot Connor, Terence Noonan, Holley Simmons, Paul Baldassari, Linda Roth and Silvestro Conte, Christian Hager, Mary Bird, Susan Bennett, Cheryl Masri. Tricia Messerschmitt, Mark Neidig, Martha Pheeny, Sonya Bernhardt, Danielle Wade, Chris Larsin, Sarah Simmons, and from theEuropean Union Delegation to the U.S., Mattias Sundholm and Kasper Zeuthen.
Tiffani Caillor with The Washington Post's Tom Heath Katie Krackoff of Park Hyatt Hotels, Sarah Crocker of Kimpton Hotels, and Avishag Kichel of Park Hyatt
Heather Guay with newspaper publisher Sonya Bernhardt Renee Sharrow of Mandarin Oriental, Lauren Vance of local Channel 9 news, and author/producer Terence Noonan
Mark Indre of Marriott International and television producer Scott McCrary Sarah Simmons of FoxNews, Sean McGarvy, of WUSA-TV, and public relations executive Anthony Hesselius
Margot Connor and and NPR's Holley Simmons Mattias Sundholm, Kasper Zeuthen of the European Commission Delegation to the U.S., and Christian Hager
Washington fashionistas Janine Graebe and Danielle Wade Liliana Baldassari, Maria Trabocchi, Liz O'Donnell, and Holidae Hayes
Chris Larsin, aka "Mr. Four Seasons" and political producer Lauren Vicary Washington pr veteran Linda Roth and husband Silvestro Conte
Gingerbread martinis, red and white wine, and chamagne for the guests Trays of finger food were passed throughout the party
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.