Temple to journalist’s self–regard falls on hard times
By Michael R. Shannon
Evidently, America just wasn’t that in to you.
The Newseum, a 250,000–square–foot Nexus of Narcissism for America’s journalists is in danger of closing. Originally opened 20 years ago, the Newseum is journalism’s valentine to itself. A museum designed to tell a breathless public everything it could possibly want to know about all that’s warm and wonderful about reporters.
That’s a tough sell when journalists are tied with lawyers in the public’s disdain ranking.
A better way to think of the Newseum is as a celebration of the interpreters of an event rather than the event itself.
I’m sure if historians were mentioned in the Constitution, that profession might have tried the same gambit. Fortunately we’ve been spared the “Histeum.”
The media, as it never tires of telling us, is mentioned in the Constitution and to prove it the Newseum has the First Amendment etched on the front of this Pennsylvania Avenue Preening Palace, but that’s only window dressing.
It would have been more fitting to simply install the world’s largest mirror so the Opposition Media could admire itself as members of the profession entered the building.
This tangible demonstration of the journalistic ego contains 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, plus 15 theaters, a conference center, parking garage, apartments and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.
For comparison purposes we have two other museums dedicated to the 2nd Amendment — also in the Constitution although journalists often pretend otherwise. The NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, VA is only 15,000–square–feet and the J. M. Davis Arms Museum in Claremore, OK totals another 40,000–square–feet. This makes the combined total less than 20 percent of Battleship News.
The Newseum was originally founded in Arlington, VA but as far was the sophisticates who ran the place were concerned they may as well have been in Claremore. They longed for the bright lights. So in 2008 the facility moved to Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.
Timing couldn’t have been worse. The Newseum greatly increased its expenses just when the journalism profession was beginning its long slow decline. A mausoleum would have made more sense.
Newseum marketers had as much trouble convincing tourists to visit as journalists had convincing those same Middle Americans to vote for Hillary. Adult tickets costing $24.95 didn’t help either. While the National Air and Space Museum had 7 million visitors in 2016 the Newseum had a mere 800,000, which according to the Washington Post, brought in $7.5 million in revenue.
Even hijacking captive audiences of school children on field trips, PR events trying to buy journo good will and industry confabs weren't enough to cover the operating nut. To keep the Newseum from closing like a suburban newspaper, the Freedom Forum, formerly the Gannett Foundation, has been pumping approximately $20 million a year into the budget for a total of $500 million.
That’s a lot of money for a vanity project.
I’m a journalist myself and I never had any interest in visiting “my” museum.
In WaPost coverage of the Newseum’s problems mention is made of some of the more interesting exhibits, like the “interactive displays and exhibitions on 9/11, the FBI and the Unabomber, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Newer exhibitions include one on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement and ‘First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets.’”
But the exhibits are all derivative. Journalists didn’t accomplish any of those events. They observed those events. Heck, they didn’t even clean up after the presidential dogs!
Visiting the Newseum and expecting a firsthand experience is like going to Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant and instead of being allowed to eat, they hand you a copy of the food critic’s review.
I’ve been trying to think about what would get me to visit and I came up with a list of journalistically–related exhibits that have real tourist interest:
If the staff wants to adopt any of my ideas, they’re going to have to move fast. The Freedom Forum is getting ready to turn off the subsidy spigot. As Wayne Reynolds, a former Newseum board member put it, “Who would give them money when they were losing $30 million a year? People typically don’t want to salvage a sinking ship.”
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at mandate.mmpr (at) gmail.com. He is also the author of Conservative Christian's Guidebook for Living in Secular Times (Now with added humor!).