Self-Indulgent Shrine to Journalists Blames Failure on Press Criticism

Listen to the Article!

After 11 years of hemorrhaging money, the Newseum, a 250,000 square foot temple dedicated to journalists by journalists, will close on December 31, 2019. Apparently, despite pouring $650 million to the project, the effort to prop up the floundering museum has finally collapsed.. 

Appearing at a final event to honor the Newseum, former President Peter Prichard offered a litany of excuses and blame for the failure, including possibly Donald Trump. Regarding reasons “an excellent institution like this has to close,” he suggested: “Some politicians found that blaming journalists was an attractive political vein to mine.

 

 

Other possible reasons: 

There was also some macro trends that created serious headwinds. The development of this museum created coincided with the digital hurricane that swept over old school traditional media. Newspapers large and small were decimated. Fairness and objectivity in news reporting deteriorated, or in some cases, disappeared.

Apparently, economics wasn’t the strong department for the individuals behind the Newseum. It didn’t occur to them that opening a museum with an average ticket cost $25 — in a city of free museums — would be a problem: 

We also opened the Newseum in the midst of the recession and the fallout from that greatly increased over time annual interest payments on our debt. And, because we received no money from government entities — we wanted to remain independent — we had to charge an admission fee of more than $20. 

That was in line with museums around the country and around the world, but quite high for Washington where our great government-funded institutions are free. And we underestimated how hard it would be to break even when the competition was free. 

But, no worries, the institution that frittered away $650 million had fun. Prichard concluded: “But so much for the tedious financial details. The good news is we had a great run.” 

Over the years, NewsBusters has reported on the problems with the journalistic self-love. In 2008, The MRC’s Kyle Drennen noted that “the exhibit on journalistic ethics took up less space in the seven floor building than the gift shop.” 

In 2009, I toured the museum and found that the Newseum downplayed bias and derided the “advocacy journalism” of conservative talk radio. One section read: 

News Sometimes Gets a Partisan Slant

Patriot journalists in Colonial America didn’t always tell all sides of the story. They mostly told one side- their side. They were far from "objective" -a word that journalists would not use to describe their work until the late 19th century. Anyone and anything were fair game for the "scandalmongers" of the Colonial era. Their mixture of news and opinion was the forerunner of advocacy journalism in the United States- a style of partisan commentary that eventually found its way into editorial pages, which were introduced in the 1850s, and then into talk radio and internet blogs.

Perhaps this is the “fairness and objectivity in news reporting” Prichard was referring to?  If you’re a family of four interested in spending over $80 to see journalistic self-praise, you have until December 31st. But if you would rather go to free museums, they are all over Washington D.C. 

A partial transcript of Prichard’s speech is below. Click "expand" to read more. 

Celebrating the First Amendment at the Newseum
12/11/19

PETER PRICHARD: (Former President of the Newseum): Naturally, when an excellent institution like this has to close, people ask why? There are many reasons. First, those of us who planned it, including our founder, Al Neuharth, our very capable long-time CEO Charles Overby and many other managers and trustees, including me, made this museum too large. We thought big. We wanted to make an impact. And so this was a very ambitious, visionary project. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be very expensive. Too expensive over time for its main funder, the Freedom Forum to operate

Despite spending more than $500 million from the Freedom Forum, and nearly $150 million that we raised from very generous donors, both large and small, the Newseum was never able to break even. Our smallest annual operating deficit was in the $7 million range and the largest driven by rising interest rates was more than $30 million. Unfortunately, our foundation just couldn’t sustain those loses over time. 

There was also some macro trends that created serious headwinds. The development of this museum created coincided with the digital hurricane that swept over old school traditional media. Newspapers large and small were decimated. Fairness and objectivity in news reporting deteriorated, or in some cases, disappeared. And some politicians found that blaming journalists was an attractive political vein to mine. 

So the traditional media, a natural base of support for the Newseum, was left economically weakened and held in low regard by the public. We also opened the Newseum in the midst of the recession and the fallout from that greatly increased over time annual interest payments on our debt. And, because we received no money from government entities — we wanted to remain independent — we had to charge an admission fee of more than $20. 

That was in line with museums around the country and around the world, but quite high for Washington where our great government-funded institutions are free. And we underestimated how hard it would be to break even when the competition was free. But so much for the tedious financial details. The good news is we had a great run. 

NB Daily Video
Scott Whitlock's picture


Sponsored Links