(2019-02-05) The Newseum Was A Grand Tribute To The Power Of Journalism Heres How It Failed

The Newseum was a grand tribute to the power of journalism. Here’s how it failed. April 2008 as the Newseum celebrated the unveiling of its sumptuous building with the soaring facade just steps from the U.S. Capitol. 10 years later, the Newseum is shrinking into an uncertain future, the distress sale of its building to Johns Hopkins University marking the end of a troubled tenure that has become a cautionary tale of bloated budgets and unrealized ambition

The Newseum originally opened in 1997 in Rosslyn in a building with a geodesic dome as its only recognizable feature. About 400,000 visitors a year enjoyed free entry to its interactive exhibitions, innovative video displays and a memorial to fallen journalists. Good reviews and enthusiastic crowds prompted Al Neuharth to dream bigger, and in the coming years, he was imagining a splashier space across the Potomac River.

To pull off the real estate deal, the foundation had to make a choice: pay for the building in Washington or continue to maintain its network of overseas offices, which supported democratic ideals.

Eliminating the overseas offices wasn’t enough. The next year, the foundation axed its Freedom Forum Fellows program, which helped working journalists get academic credentials to teach at universities.

By the time the Newseum was ready to open its doors, the project was three years behind schedule, and its price tag would eventually swell to $477 million.

there was a difference between their museum and the popular, admission-free Smithsonians: They would charge an entrance fee — one of the highest in city. It now stands at $25 a person.

There have been five rounds of staff cuts in the past 10 years

While operating in the red, the Newseum kept paying big salaries to upper management, including $1.2 million to chief executive James C. Duff in 2014. His successor, Jeffrey Herbst, pocketed $632,441 in 2016. Even so, the museum has had five chief executives since 2014.

When the economy rebounded after the stock market convulsions, the Newseum failed to bounce back.

The news industry was contracting and consolidating, leaving the museum with fewer doors to knock on and smaller grants from its early supporters

One of the hallmarks of the original Newseum was its ­forward-leaning embrace of technology. At its new location, however, it struggled to reflect dramatic changes in the media industry.


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