The museum dedicated to the history of journalism and the First Amendment has struggled financially since opening 11 years ago
By Jason Daley
OCTOBER 3, 2019
Citing financial difficulties, the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the history of journalism, First Amendment freedoms and the free press, will close its doors at the end of the year.
The Newseum's Iconic First Amendment Tablet Is Headed to Philadelphia
In a statement, the Washington, D.C., institution revealed that it has struggled financially for several years and can no longer sustain operations at its current location. Last January, the museum’s founder and primary funder, the Freedom Forum, agreed to sell the building to Johns Hopkins University for $373 million. The university will use the Pennsylvania Avenue building for its D.C.-based graduate programs.
Sonya Gavankar, director of public relations for the Newseum, tells Smithsonian.com that all of the artifacts and exhibits will remain in place until the end of 2019, when the building closes to the public. At that time, any artifacts on loan from other institutions will be returned to their owners. Everything in the permanent collection will be moved to an archive facility outside Washington until a location is determined for public display.
The museum has hosted dozens of temporary exhibitions on themes including the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, presidential photographers, the Lincoln assassination, the Vietnam War, as well as various exhibitions on editorial cartoonists and exceptional journalists.
The museum also maintains a permanent 9/11 Gallery, which explores the terrorist attacks and includes first-person accounts from journalists who witnessed the event and artifacts including pieces of the World Trade Center and a piece of the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Its Berlin Wall Gallery is also a significant draw; the space includes eight intact sections of the 12-foot high concrete barricade, the largest unaltered section of wall outside Germany, as well as a three-story guard tower that stood near Checkpoint Charlie.
Over the course of more than 11 years, the Newseum drew some 10 million visitors. But, as Sophia Barnes at Washington’s NBC4 reports, the museum struggled to afford the 400,000-foot venue. The museum charges $24.95 for adult visitors, but with many free options just a few blocks away, the Newseum had difficulty competing.
Speaking with NBC4, Gavankar says that the Newseum hopes to reopen in another, more sustainable, place. “We hope to find a suitable location that can serve as the Newseum’s next home but that process will take time,” she says.
Gavankar adds that the Newseum’s traveling exhibits, including deep dives into rock ‘n’ roll, JFK, the Stonewall Riots, and photojournalism, will continue on at museums around the country.
The closing of the museum is no surprise to those familiar with the Newseum’s financial situation. Peggy McGlone and Manuel Roig-Franzia at the Washington Post report that the Newseum has operated at a deficit every year since opening at its current site. “It’s a slow-motion disaster,” one person with knowledge of the museum’s inner workings told the Post.
Initially founded in 1997 in the D.C. suburb of Rosslyn, the Newseum readied to move into Washington, D.C., proper in 2000. Buoyed by early success, it bought its current site along the Potomac River across from the National Art Gallery for about $146 million (adjusted for inflation).
As Kriston Capps at CityLab reports, the opulent space, which opened to the public in 2008, was the baby of late USA Today and Gannett founder Allen Neuharth, who created the Freedom Forum back in 1991.
Construction cost $450 million, twice initial estimates. Burdened with $300 million in debt, the institution struggled to stay afloat from the get-go. Critics point out that despite financial woes, the institution still paid its director a $630,000 salary; other executives and board members were also paid at rates above the norm for a cultural nonprofit.
“This was a museum that purchased a multi-million-dollar building in a location where, when you look around, there are lots of free museums to go to,” Joanna Woronkowicz of Indiana University tells Capps. “While the mission of the organization is unique, in that sense, it’s not unique in what it provides to people who want to go to museums in D.C.”
Like journalism itself, the Newseum will likely survive in some form despite its financial setbacks, but, as Capps surmises, it probably won’t have all the bells and whistles as it had in its present incarnation.
SMARTNEWS Keeping you current
Here’s How That Internet-Famous ‘Fish Tube’ Works
The cheap, efficient pneumatic tubes may be a good solution for helping salmon and other migratory species move past dams
By Jason Daley
AUGUST 15, 2019
Over the past few days, the internet has unleashed its collective wit on a video of the “salmon cannon,” a gadget that is used to transport migratory fish, primarily salmon, over and around dams blocking their way. While slinging fish upriver using a pneumatic tube is kind of funny, it’s also a legit piece of conservation equipment that may help to restore ecosystems.
The fish frenzy began when a video of the fish cannon—actually a fish migratory system created by the aptly named company Whooshh Innovations—was highlighted on the news platform Cheddar. From there, the video, which shows people loading salmon into the tube and then follows the fish’s journey through the migrator tube up and over a dam, went viral.
The internet did its thing, adding the music from Super Mario Brothers to the scene as well as a crowd favorite: Lady Gaga’s iconic belting in the song Shallow. Lots of people want to take a ride in it.
As Scottie Andrew at CNN reports, the fish cannon is not a new invention, and when it first hit the media in 2014, comedian John Oliver spent almost five minutes riffing on the salmon cannon.
Aja Romano at Vox reports that the fish tube is as useful to conservation efforts as it is absolutely bonkers. During the 19th and 20th centuries, rampant dam building across the United States blocked the migratory paths of many fish species, in particular salmon that naturally swim upriver to spawn in the rocky pools where they were born. With 85,000 dams in the Unites States alone, that means the natural pathways for a lot of fish have been disrupted, pushing many species—especially native salmon—onto the endangered species list.
Once this problem was recognized, scientists began to try to remedy the situation. One solution was to build “fish ladders” into dams, or a series of stepped pools designed to allow the fish to flop their way over dams to their spawning grounds. But recent studies found that the ladders are too hard to navigate, beat up the fish, and only a small fraction of fish actually find and use the ladders. The other option is trapping the fish and hauling them upstream via barges, trucks or sometimes helicopters, an expensive and resource intensive solution that often leaves fish disoriented.
The fish cannon, originally designed to transport fresh fruit in orchards, is still being evaluated by government agencies and conservation groups but so far appears to be a better solution. CNN’s Andrew reports that the fish are placed in the tube where differential pressure pushes them along a flexible tube that expands to accommodate their size. They travel at about 22 miles per hour and get misted by water the entire way. Ideally, the fish don’t have to be fed through the cannon by hand. Instead, the entrance to the tube is camouflaged as habitat attractive to the fish and they will enter the accelerator on their own. When running at full capacity, the machine can fling 50,000 fish upstream every day.
A study of the system conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories published in April in Fisheries Research found that the animals sustained very few injuries from the Whooshh tube and there were only a very small number of problems, like fish getting stuck in the tubes.
“The results of our studies have shown that the system does have potential to assist in migration of salmonids. Future evaluations are still needed to compare the passage success with conventional fishways,” a Whooshh spokesperson tells Vox’s Romano.
So far, reports CNN, Whooshh has sold 20 of their fish cannon systems to government agencies in Europe and the U.S., including one that is almost a quarter-mile long.
“People think it’s crazy,” Whooshh CEO Vince Bryant says. “This is the real deal, guys. This is not some internet video thing.”
In fact, some restoration projects are counting on the fish cannon or other new solutions to bring salmon back to areas where they’ve disappeared. Courtney Flatt at Northwest Public Broadcasting reports that last Friday the Colville Tribe in Washington State released 30 salmon above the Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River and plans to release more salmon above the Grand Coulee Dam. The goal is to bring the fish back to the area, which has plenty of suitable salmon habitat that the fish have not been able to access for 80 years. The project, however, is counting on a newer technology, like the salmon cannon or a floating surface collector, to transport the fish around the massive dams to restore their traditional run.
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