Newseum to Close after Years of Difficulties

    28 December, 2019

    The Newseum, a private museum showing modern history through the eyes of journalists, is closing after 11 years in Washington, DC.

    Opened in 2008, the building became recognizable for its four-story high marble presentation of the First Amendment. That amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the freedoms of speech and the press among others.

    After years of financial difficulties, the Newseum will finally close its doors on December 31, the last day of 2019. The building was sold for $372.5 million to Johns Hopkins University. The school plans to use it for some of its graduate programs.

    Sonya Gavankar is the outgoing spokesperson for the museum. She noted several issues that led to the closing. One was bad timing. The museum opened in 2008 during an economic recession. Newspapers were hit especially hard. Some closed and many reporters lost their jobs.

    Also, in a city full of free museums, the private Newseum charged visitors $25 to enter. Just across the street is the National Gallery of Art. Within walking distance are several Smithsonian museums. All receive money from the U.S. Congress.

    "Competing with free institutions in Washington was difficult," Gavankar said.

    People visit the Pulitzer Prize Photography exhibition at the Newseum, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
    People visit the Pulitzer Prize Photography exhibition at the Newseum, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

    Claire Myers lives in the city of Washington. She recalls coming to the Newseum on a class trip during her final year of high school. She only returned in late December for a final visit because she heard it was closing at the end of the year.

    She said, "I do think part of the reason was because it's a paid museum. Why go out of my way to do this when I could just go to any other free museum?"

    But Myers said she was deeply impressed by the exhibits, especially the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. "I do wish it wasn't going away," she said.

    In addition to journalism and historic event exhibits, the Newseum has added others involving free speech and civil rights issues.

    There is an exhibit exploring the cultural and political influence of comedian John Stewart and his "The Daily Show" television program. Others include a look at the history of LGBTQ rights and an exhibit of presidential dogs.

    Gavankar said the Freedom Forum would continue its mission in different forms. That is the journalism foundation that started the Newseum, which was first based in northern Virginia.

    The foundation currently has exhibits on the Berlin Wall in two Washington area airports. Next year, they will be replaced by exhibits on the women's voting rights movement.

    The Newseum's popular Today's Front Pages, which shows nearly 1,000 newspaper's front pages each day from around the world, will continue online after the December 31 closing.

    Ken Paulson is a former president of the Newseum. He called the museum's closing "a major disappointment to so many who care deeply about freedom of the press."

    As for the marble entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue, Paulson wrote in USA Today, "It was a dramatic and valuable reminder of the role our freedoms of press, speech, religion, petition and assembly play in ensuring that the United States remains the most vibrant, powerful — and free — nation in the world."

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Hai Do adapted this Associated Press story with additional materials for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    journalist –n. someone who writes news stories for newspapers, magazines, television or radio

    exhibit –n. a collection of objects put in a public place so they can be seen and examined

    LGBTQ - n. stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (or queer)

    foundation –n. an organization created to do something that helps society

    role –n. the part something or someone plays in an activity

    petition –n. a formal request made to an official or organization

    assembly –n. the act of meeting together to exchange ideas

    vibrant –adj. showing great life, activity and energy