‘Hallowed Be Us”: the twisted Newseum money trail

The Newseum, Washington, DC, USA

The Newseum, Washington, DC, USA

If you were to ask me when daily newspapers began to become irrelevant in the United States, I’d tell you April 11, 2008.

That was the day in which the seven-level, 250,000-square-foot (23,000 m2), $450 million U.S. dollar, new facility of the Newseum opened in Washington, D.C. It was the day in which the U.S. news industries (but primarily the U.S. newspaper industry, which funded most of this facility) created a museum to themselves.

This was when I knew that U.S. daily newspapers were the living dead. During the preceding 200 years, that industry had built itself into a $47 billion annual business.  However, it had lost 25 percent of those revenues during the previous three years, was about to lose a further 34 percent during the next three years, yet was spending nearly half a billion dollars created a museum to itself.

That half a billion dollars was spent by the Freedom Foundation. Originally, named the Gannett Foundation, this organization was founded in 1935 by the eponymous newspaper chain founder Frank Gannett for the benefit of Red Cross chapters and other needy causes in communities where that newspaper publisher did business. Some 20 years ago, one of Frank Gannett’s successors, Al Neuharth, arranged for the Gannett Corporation to donate $650 million in company stock as was the entirety of the Freedom Foundation’s endowment, transforming it into a global journalism charity. The Newseum also houses the Freedom Foundation’s offices.

I realize that the Newseum is a reasonably popular tourist attraction in Washington. But I was outraged that any foundation whose ostensible mission is to promote journalism and the free press would spend half a billion dollars on a museum about its own industry when that industry was, rather frankly, collapsing, tens of thousands of its reporters and other workers were being fired, etc.

If you think I’m wrong, I’d encourage you to read the unofficial and independent Gannett Blog’s story about this 250,000-square-foot white elephant and its money trail.

About Vin Crosbie