Journalism’s Temple to Itself on ‘Death Watch’ After ‘Stunning Decline’

Journalism’s temple to its own self importance, the Newseum in Washington D.C., is on a “death watch,” according to the Washington Post. The 250,000 square foot museum is in such bad shape that even Politico thinks it “deserves to die.” Post journalist Peggy McGlone on Wednesday delivered the bad news: “The Newseum has been on a death watch before, but Monday’s announcement that its parent foundation is considering selling the sprawling Washington museum devoted to journalism is a stunning acknowledgment of its long-standing struggles.” 

What are some of the problems? Well, for one, $500 million has been spent on the monument to journalism. McGlone explained just how expensive that made the Newseum for the general public: “Adult admission is set at $24.95 and youth tickets cost $14.95, making it one of the costliest museums in a city with many world-class institutions — such as the National Gallery of Art across the street — that are free.” 

To put it another way, a family of four visiting Washington D.C. would be paying almost $100, just for the chance to see and hear journalists compliment themselves. It’s no wonder, as the Post pointed out, that Americans have passed on the opportunity: 

The museum struggles with attendance. Washington’s most popular museum, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, reported about 7 million visitors last year, while the Newseum attracted about 800,000.

The Newseum has had five chief executives in seven years. Not exactly stable. 

Over in Politico, Jack Shafer on Tuesday excoriated the grandiose examples of journalistic self love:  

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If the Newseum goes down, it will have deserved its death. Truth be told, it never deserved birth. Its owner, the Freedom Forum foundation, spent $450 million building its palace of journalism in 2008, making the Newseum among the most expensive museums then under construction. Featuring a facade constructed from 50 tons of Tennessee marble, the seven-level structure has sought to commemorate the news business by stuffing its exhibits with 60,000-plus baubles and artifacts from the trade.

Newseum exhibits often resemble the detritus from a flea market. It has been or is home to Wonkette’s slippers, the Watergate break-in door, Tim Russert’s office, posters and reporters’ notebooks from the Ferguson protests, Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold’s legal pads, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs’ eyeglasses (broken when candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed him), an Ai Weiwei self-portrait, props and costumes from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, a Boston Globe reporter’s running shoes, hundreds of press passes, Walt Mossberg’s gadgets, Bono’s jacket, and much more.

Past reporting by NewsBusters showcased the Newseum’s tone deafness. In 2009, I noted that the section on objectivity finds a “partisan” slant in “talk radio and internet blogs.” What about NBC? The New York Times

In 2008, the MRC’s Kyle Drennen pointed out that the museum’s ethics exhibit is smaller than the gift shop. 

Still, the Newseum does have some defenders. In another story in Wednesday’s Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan saw the grand journalistic endeavor as a victim of a “media-hating president”: 

It doesn’t require a PhD in comparative literature to see the Newseum’s troubles as a metaphor for the besieged state of the American press.

The First Amendment — whose words are etched impressively on the building’s exterior — is threatened by a media-hating president. The news industry’s financial turmoil continues. And many Americans mistrust the news media, even as many others cherish and support journalists’ watchdog role.

If you have an extra $25, now’s your chance to see the Newseum. It probably won’t be around much longer. 


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