Newseum relents, will display weeklies after protest by editors

Front pages from the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Biloxi Sun Herald are seen on display at the Newseum in Washington for their exhibit on press coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

A daylong protest by weekly newspaper editors from around the U.S. against the Newseum’s snubbing of community journalism resulted in the Washington, D.C., museum changing its policy to include weeklies in its Today’s Front Pages exhibit.

For years, the Newseum has featured a daily roundup of front pages, both electronically and along its Pennsylvania Avenue exterior. The electronic archive includes PDFs sent in each day by hundreds of newspapers, both U.S. and international. The ground-floor exhibit, visible to passersby, includes a newspaper from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and a dozen other countries.

The Newseum’s written policy limited participation to daily newspapers, a restriction that has long irked weeklies’ editors and publishers. The U.S. has approximately 1,380 daily and 6,000 weekly newspapers.

“The Newseum is supposed to be a museum about news, not about metropolitan news, not about daily news specifically,” said Dan Robrish, a former Associated Press journalist who started The Elizabethtown (Pa.) Advocate in 2010 after Journal-Register Co. closed the Elizabethtown Chronicle. “It seems like a ridiculous distinction to make.”

Especially, perhaps, since the Newseum had allowed newspapers that reduced their print publication schedules to three days a week to continue contributing to the exhibit.

So on Thursday, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors organized a “front page blitz,” urging its members to email their front pages to the Newseum and follow up with social-media tweets and posts. At least 130 front pages were sent, said Steve Thurston, who teaches community journalism at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md., and helped coordinate the campaign.

The Newseum responded by removing the offending word “daily” from the FAQs on the exhibit site. “Any general interest newspaper” can email frontpages@newseum.org for instructions on how to participate.

“When people get together like this and feel strongly about a specific issue, and mobilize and make specific arguments, it does have an impact,” Jonathan Thompson, the Newseum’s senior manager of media relations, said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.

Chad Stebbins, executive director of the weekly newspaper society, said the larger issue is respect for the passion and energy that community journalists bring to their work. “We have forced them to at least start considering weeklies as real, legitimate newspapers that should stand aside their daily counterparts,” he said.

In a phone conversation before diving into a meeting of the Frazier Park Public Utility District, Patric Hedlund, editor of the weekly Mountain Enterprise and monthly New Mountain Pioneer, which cover an 800-square-mile stretch of rural hamlets halfway between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, Calif., called the Newseum’s change of heart “timely.”

Her papers cover “all the major issues of our time,” she said. The utility district was to discuss debt payments in the face of reduced revenues following foreclosures during the recession, which has lingered in rural areas. Then she was off to a community panel on increased heroin distribution in Kern County.

“Their curatorial overview had a real blind spot,” Hedlund said of the discarded policy. “To do a credible job, they can’t have such a huge, gaping hole, the Newseum, as a reporter of the journalism in our country.”

Barbara Selvin is an assistant professor of journalism at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Before becoming an educator, she was a reporter for Newsday and New York Newsday. Her career began at weekly newspapers on Long Island. Disclosure: As a community journalism researcher, Selvin has received a scholarship to attend the 2014 International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors conference and is an academic member of the society.

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