‘A slow-motion disaster’: Journalism museum in talks about possible building sale

Last year, SHU did not sponsor a bus trip to Washington D.C., so I did not arrange a field trip to the Newseum. Seeing a chunk of the Berlin Wall, an antenna from the World Trade Center in front of a display of 9/11 front pages from around the world, Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski’s cabin, and historical printing presses were highlights for me. This humble educator did think that the building was trying too hard, but it was always worth the revisit.

The Newseum is billed as a monument to the First Amendment and an exploration of media in the United States. From a financial perspective, however, it looks as much like an events space as a museum.

The Newseum earned $18 million in rental and catering revenue and only $7.8 million in admissions in 2016. Other revenue came from a parking garage and food court. The museum attracts about 800,000 visitors annually. Williams, the chief operating officer, disclosed Wednesday that it recorded an uptick in admissions in 2017 when 855,000 people visited — its best attendance figures since its debut year.

To its supporters, pondering the museum’s future is nothing short of an existential exercise with ramifications far beyond a mere building.

“Arguably in 2018 the notion of free press and the First Amendment and other elements of the Bill of Rights are perhaps more important to remember and understand than they have ever been,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute. “I think in many ways it’s an extraordinarily good time to rethink what this means to us.”  —Washington Post