Like the business it represents, the “Newseum” in Washington, DC, may be headed to extinction.
The ode to the news business opened in 1997 in Arlington, Virginia, in the Roslyn section of the county and not far from our home then on Fairfax Drive.
The Arlington location closed on March 3, 2002 as part of a planned move to a $450 million edifice on Pennsylvania Avenue that opened on April 11, 2008 — four years after we left the District of Columbia.
We missed the opening of the original Newseum in Arlington in 1997 because I was in the Philippines on assignment. I later visited the site to take part in a program on changes in the newspaper industry, primarily because I could type on an old Linotype machine on display in the facility.
Part of that display also included a clipping from The Telegraph, Alton, Illinois, where I worked as a reporter and photographer from 1969-1981.
The first visit to the Newseum provided a glimpse at Pulitzer Prize winning photographs and a fair amount of flash and glitter about the business of journalism.
I returned to the old Newseum twice more, both times to participate in other panel discussions on the decline of the newspaper business.
It had glitter and glitz. It needed a soul.
That soul didn’t surface appear when the Newseum reopened in the 250,000 square feet spread across seven stories and the facility today is hemorrhaging money and bankrupting The Freedom Forum, owner of the facility.
President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst resigned last week because of the financial challenges the facility now faces.
Freedom Forum, in a statement, says a “review process” is under way and the board “has retained counsel to review any and all options regarding the building, including an outright sale.”
“If the Newseum goes down, it will have deserved its death,” writes longtime media reporter Jack Shafer, now with Politico. “Truth be told, it never deserved birth. Featuring a façade construction from 50 tons of Tennessee marble, the seven-level structure sought to commemorate the news business by stuffing its exhibits with 60,000 baubles and artifacts from the trade.”
“And,” as former CBS Evening News Anchorman Walter Cronkite used to say, “that’s the way it is.