The Newseum is officially closing its doors today after 11 years of operation in the nation’s capital and you won’t find me shedding a tear.
Some journalists hailed the First Amendment-focused museum as a beacon of hope during a time when the media was facing dangerous attacks in America, like being called ‘fake news’ or only being allowed to ask one question during a press conference.
But the Newseum was hardly the tribute to press freedom that it purported to be; rather, it was a money-hemorrhaging, unfocused building of stuff with a severe identity crisis.
The most dynamic and engaging exhibit at the Newseum was arguably the lineup of front pages from the country’s most storied newspapers that sat just outside the front entrance. Newseum staff swapped out the headlines daily, so passersby could compare how different news outlets were spinning the biggest stories of the day.
It’s not a good sign for a business when potential customers can experience the most interesting thing it has to offer without ever entering the building.
Adults had to pay a steep $25 entrance fee to check out the rest of the Newseum’s exhibits. It’s difficult to justify paying that much considering DC is littered with Smithsonian museums that feature the history of space travel, classic art pieces, and the famous Hope Diamond all for free. And despite that source of income, the Newseum had serious financial difficulties that stemmed all the way back to the $450 million decision to erect the building in the first place.
The Newseum’s exhibits and artifacts shouldn’t inspire people to open their wallets anyway. While the September 11 memorial on the first floor was a fitting tribute to the tragic events of that day, it felt slightly out of place in a museum dedicated to the press. The rest of the Newseum had a similar problem — many of the exhibits had tenuous connections to the media and failed to demonstrate a cohesive theme. The exhibit dedicated to the history of the civil rights movement would fit in perfectly at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum, but seemed disjointed while sandwiched between the Newseum’s interactive newsroom, ‘First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets’, and Ben Jacobs’s broken eyeglasses.
The Newseum could hardly make up for the randomness of its curation by hosting frequent documentary screenings, panel discussions and workshops. Such events were held primarily for the wine-sipping coastal elitist journalists it claimed needed protection from the unprecedented attacks of the Trump administration.
The only possible ending for a museum that overcharged patrons to endure its lack of vision was failure. The Newseum has finally met its fate.