The Newseum remains open to the public for now while its owners consider selling all or part of its seven-story Pennsylvania Avenue property after years of financial turmoil for the journalism museum.
The Freedom Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation and the principal founder of the Newseum, announced Aug. 28 it is undergoing a strategic review of whether it can remain open and operational at its current level without continuing to run on a spending deficit.
The review was announced on the same day as the resignation of the museum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst. Herbst did not state publicly the reasons for his resignation.
The review will cover Newseum funding, program priorities, new leadership and all available options regarding use of the museum’s building, according to the Newseum’s Aug. 30 press release. The museum will remain open throughout the review process.
The review may ultimately result in a range of outcomes for the museum, including the sale or lease of parts of the building or the sale of the building entirely, according to a statement from the Freedom Forum. Leadership will also be looking to fill Herbst’s former post.
The Newseum has a history of financial struggles, beginning with its $450 million construction in 2008, which placed it among the most expensive museums under construction at the time, according to Politico.
Costly interactive exhibits, state-of-the-art television studios and 15 galleries and theaters have all contributed to the museum’s financial woes. Despite attracting over 800,000 visitors a year and charging an admission fee of $24.95, the Newseum has never been able to produce a profit, according to Politico. Since the museum’s founding, the Freedom Forum has been funding the budget deficit.
The Freedom Forum is also the principal founder of the Newseum Institute, which runs educational programs about the First Amendment and religious freedom.
Chair and CEO of the Freedom Forum Jan Neuharth said the museum’s current model with the Freedom Forum as the museum’s primary funder “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,” Neuharth said.
The goal is “ensuring that the Freedom Forum will be able to continue and increase its efforts to support the First Amendment and educate people across the nation and around the world about the value of these bedrock freedoms,” the press release reads.
While the Newseum’s future currently hangs in the balance, Georgetown students, including Lexi LaShelle (COL ’18), hold out hope that it will be able to remain afloat.
“I think it’s an incredibly important museum and don’t think there’s anything else like it in D.C.,” LaShelle said. “It always has the best and most interesting exhibits and is such a great way to learn about the many different sides of journalism.”
Neuharth said museum leadership remains committed to the mission of upholding and honoring freedom of speech and the press.
“The First Amendment is under assault as never before. We want to be sure our programs are aligned with our mission to be First Amendment advocates in this environment,” Neuharth said in a press release. “Our goal is to find ways to further advance the educational programs and advocacy opportunities of both the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, and to examine how we responsibly and financially sustain this effort.”