Charles OverbySept. 29, 2011
Medal of Service // Media Arts
Individual whose contributions to the fields of media communications/the arts have made a significant impact on society
- Chairman and chief executive officer of The Freedom Forum, an independent, non-partisan foundation dedicated to promoting a better understanding of the First Amendment; The Diversity Institute, a school that teaches journalists and aspiring journalists with the goal of increasing diversity in newsrooms; and the Newseum, a museum in Washington, D.C.
- Former editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., which won the Pulitzer Prize Public Service Award in 1983
- Worked 16 years as reporter, editor and corporate executive for Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper company
- Was vice president for news and communications for Gannett and served on the management committees of Gannett and USA TODAY
- As a reporter, covered the White House, presidential campaigns, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court
- Serves on board of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans
- Member of the foundation board of the University of Mississippi, his alma mater, and member of the board of visitors of Duke University Divinity School
- Served on the Baylor Board of Regents for 10 years
- He and his wife, Andrea, have three children -- Anna, Melissa, BA '97, and Chad, BBA '05 -- and two grandchildren
- 2011-12 Baylor Meritorious Achievement Award Winners
Charles Overby is a man who wears many hats. Perhaps most prominently, as chairman of the Freedom Forum, he is a promoter of the First Amendment, a caretaker of journalists, and a preserver of history.
One of Overby's primary responsibilities is running the Newseum, a "museum of news" that is the No. 2 attraction in the Washington, D.C., area, according to TripAdvisor.com. He oversaw its relocation to Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the U.S. Capitol in 2008.
"The museum is interactive, bringing history to life through firsthand news accounts. Our mission is primarily to promote and educate people on the importance of the First Amendment," he says. "My goal is that every person who comes through the museum knows the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religious liberty, speech, press, assembly and petition."
Overby, who has traveled to six continents to promote free press values, describes the First Amendment as "a highly unusual political document, incomparable" to what any other country has.
"The First Amendment was designed to protect unpopular speech. I think it is a fragile document, and I worry it could be chipped away at," he explains. "I don't believe there is any way the First Amendment would pass the way it is today if it had to go through Congress and the state legislatures. And it certainly wouldn't pass in 45 words. There's an amazing amount of freedom packed into those few words. Many organizations care about one or two of the freedoms, but [at the Freedom Forum] we really try to promote all five."
A self-described political junkie, Overby believes one of the biggest threats to our democracy is negative campaigning. He also thinks newspapers have a tough challenge in finding the right business model to sustain themselves.
"There is no other retailer that I am aware of that gives the product away on one side of the store and tries to sell the very same product on the other side."
Overby was honored to serve as a Baylor Regent from 1995 to 2006, "doubly honored considering I am from out of state and a non-Baylor graduate," he says. "I became friends with some incredible people, from Drayton McLane to Jim Turner to Will Davis, and just a host of others. The people connected with Baylor are world-class, and serving during such an exciting time at Baylor was a great experience for me. I cherish my Baylor connections."
Although Overby no longer has as much direct involvement with Baylor as he had as both a Baylor parent and Regent, he is excited by what he has heard from Baylor's president during Starr's visits to the nation's capitol.
"Ken Starr is a terrific ambassador for Baylor. I have been to several events here in Washington where President Starr hosted people to tell the story of Baylor. He is a very effective spokesman and advocate for Baylor, so it is exciting to see his dynamic leadership," says Overby.