August 28, 2017

The Newseum’s perennial financial woes once again spilled out into public Monday night after The Washington Post reported that the museum’s president, Jeffrey Herbst, was stepping down as its board takes a long, hard look at the books.

The audit could trigger a sale of the Newseum, a spectacular (and costly) mecca for news lovers on 555 Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, D.C., according to The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan. Keeping the Newseum afloat has required more than $500 million from its creator, The Freedom Forum, and it hasn’t become a self-sustaining enterprise:

Jan Neuharth, Freedom Forum CEO, said: ‘It has become obvious that the current model — where the Freedom Forum is the primary funder of the Newseum — cannot continue indefinitely at this level.’

‘Left unchecked, this deficit spending rate would eventually drain the Freedom Forum’s entire endowment, and the annual cash drain prevents us from allocating any new capital to First Amendment programs that are at the heart of our educational mission.’

The possible sale of the Newseum, and the sudden departure of its president, is the latest chapter in the Newseum’s ongoing financial travails. In 2013, The Associated Press reported that the journalism museum was “struggling mightily to cover costs,” with ticket sales covering about 10 percent of its total costs. The next year, Newseum CEO James Duff quit, triggering a search for his successor.

By 2014, the Newseum’s finances had improved considerably, but it was still running a huge deficit and relying on The Freedom Forum to pay its bills. Now, it appears things have gotten rather dire. Earlier this year, the Newseum laid off 26 employees, about 10 percent of its total staff.

After the news broke Monday night, readers on Twitter were quick to draw a connection between the Newseum’s financial setbacks and the falling fortunes of the news industry writ large.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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