A sad day for journalism as Newseum prepares to close in D.C.

The museum opened its doors to the public to great fanfare on April 11, 2008. It will close December 31, 2019.

The end of this month marks the closing of a staple in the world of journalism: the Newseum in Washington D.C.

Newseum is a facility dedicated to showing the public the importance of free press.

The museum features seven levels with 15 galleries and 15 theaters. According to newseum.org, exhibits include the 9/11 Gallery Sponsored by Comcast, the Berlin Wall Gallery, the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery and a host of others.

Along with featuring an extensive collection of historical artifacts and newspapers, a memorial wall also stands that bears the names of 2,344 reporters, editors, photographers and broadcasters who have died while reporting the news. Each name is etched on the two-story glass panels and photos and information on each person fills the wall nearby.

Another feature that is utilized by nearly 1,000 newspapers worldwide is the “Today’s Front Pages” section of the website.

For Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, there were 777 front pages submitted. In the past, the Fort Payne Times-Journal and the Jackson County Sentinel have both submitted their front pages and even been featured in the top picks more than once. Several of the front pages are also printed and displayed in the museum daily.

Since I started working in journalism, it has become somewhat of a ritual for me to open “Today’s Front Pages” and look for local or familiar newspaper names. Through doing this, I’ve come to appreciate the time and effort that goes into designing the front page of a newspaper.

Each word is meant to grab the readers’ attention.

Each photograph is meant to draw their eyes to certain places on the page, and the flow of text is meant to guide the reader through each article and story.

Everything is done with thought and every word is placed with a purpose.

You can see newspapers from right here in North Alabama featured next to ones in California and New York. To see the work of so many community journalists is a remarkable feature.

Since it was announced earlier this year, more has come to light about the museum’s closing. The museum has been open for 11 years on historic Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. and has seen upwards of 10 million visitors. So, why is it closing?

The Newseum is a 501(c)(3) or nonprofit organization that was funded by individuals, corporations and foundations, but in the end the funding received and ticket prices weren’t enough to keep it open. Some cite it as a result of the museum’s location: D.C. being the home to a number of museums with free entry.

The building has been sold to Johns Hopkins University and the exhibits will continue to circulate on loan, but there has been no word on a permanent home for them, yet.

A sentiment found throughout the facility’s statements, however, is that the Freedom Forum, creator and funder of Newseum, will push forward with its mission to promote awareness about the First Amendment and the rights of free press.

To do that, the Freedom Forum will move to temporary offices in downtown D.C. until a more permanent option becomes available. For now, digital outreach, web-based educational programs and traveling exhibits will have to suffice.

Why is Newseum important?

This was a question I saw quite often as I started researching the facility.

For obvious reasons, the promotion of the First Amendment is something we as Americans should not take for granted.

We live in a free country, with freedom of religion, speech, free press, the right to petition the government and the right to assemble.

As we know, Americans’ view of many national media outlets had shifted from past years, but I think the importance of community journalism and specifically newspapers remains in peoples’ minds.

Newseum is a place that represents journalists and their work, those on a national scale and those that work in communities as small as ours.

For a small-town reporter, to visit Newseum was something to look forward to in the future, but as of now, that plan is gone.

It is my hope this situation changes and Newseum finds more donors and funds and to once again find a permanent home.

For now, you can still visit the brick and mortar location until Dec. 31 and their online programs, along with “Today’s Front Pages,” will remain available after the new year.

Emily Kirby is a staff writer for the Times-Journal. She can be reached at emily.kirby@times-journal.com.

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