Friday, June 15, 2012

Newseum defends decision to oust news reporters; business group says Obama OK'd same ground rules

The museum told The Boston Globe that groups renting its space for events determine their own press rules -- a statement meant to tamp down controversy over the Mitt Romney campaign's ejecting reporters from a question-and-answer session the candidate held there with an influential business lobbying group on Wednesday.

The Globe reported today that President Obama in March also spoke to the Business Roundtable group at the Newseum in Washington, and under the same onerous press guidelines.

Asked about the irony of allowing a portion of a building built for press freedoms to be cordoned off from reporters, museum spokeswoman Cathy Trost told the newspaper: "Revenues from event rentals help with the museum’s mission, which is to educate the public about a free press."

Trost is a former Wall Street Journal reporter in Washington.

The museum has struggled financially since it re-opened in a new $450 million home four years ago in a project financed by the original Gannett Foundation, now called Freedom Forum. There have been several rounds of layoffs, as average operating costs jumped to as high as $250,000 daily.

Catering to all
As a result, administrators rely more on other revenue sources such as event rental and catering -- leading to this week's embarrassing headlines over the Business Roundtable events.

The dollar value of ticket sales fell 6% in 2010 from the year before, according to the museum's most recent IRS tax return, reflecting a weak economy and competition for tourist dollars from other Washington museums that offer free admission.

Overall revenue fell sharply in 2010 as Freedom Forum cut its support. Yet, a bright spot was admissions and other "program service" revenue, which rose 9% to $20.4 million from 2009. In both years, the biggest portion was catering and food sales: $13 million vs. $11 million in 2009, the return says.

With revenue down, the museum reduced overhead. Spending on salaries and benefits, for one, fell to $19.4 million from $21.6 million. Still, they remained the single-biggest line item.

Trost, for example, is vice president/exhibits, programs and media relations, according to her bio on the museum's website. It says: "She is a veteran reporter and editor who covered labor, politics and family policy at the WSJ for nearly a decade before becoming the founding director of a national journalism center."

She got paid $161,166 in wages and other benefits in 2010, the tax return shows -- making her in fact the lowest-paid Newseum employee of those whose compensation was disclosed.

Among all employees and officers at the museum and Freedom Forum in 2010, the highest paid was then-Chairman and CEO Charles Overby. He got $478,981 in wages and benefits, plus another $123,603 for expenses. That $602,584 was up 34% from 2009.

Tax returns online
Want to learn more? See Freedom Forum’s return and the Newseum’s.


  1. And I thought only Gannett executives were overpaid.

  2. The irony of all ironies:

    "Revenues from event rentals help with the museum’s mission, which is to educate the public about a free press."

    Free press? Rah rah.

  3. The Business Roundtable controlled the space it rented, according to Trost. "They set the rules for what contents they put on in their program and what press rules they apply," she told the Globe.

    That implies the Newseum and its parent Freedom Forum have no control over their own property. Obviously, that's not the case. They pick and choose their tenants and can establish any lawful ground rules as part of lease agreements. After all, they're under no obligation to rent to just anyone. (Unless, of course, finances have gotten that dire).

    Imagine, for example, that a group of university academics proposed renting the Knight Conference Center for a symposium titled: "Is Al Neuharth responsible for the destruction of the newspaper industry?"

    I think it's safe to assume Madame Chairman Jan Neuharth of the Freedom Forum would give that a thumbs-down.

  4. Looks like the peeps trying to keep the Newseum and Freedom Forum afloat convinced a few peers age 62+ to retire. But mostly, they laid off rank and file. While continuing to collect their huge salaries.

    Next time I'm in DC, I won't waste a dime on that place.

  5. "The Globe reported today that President Obama in March also spoke to the Business Roundtable group at the Newseum in Washington, and under the same onerous press guidelines."

    But evidently without similar howls of indignation from our injured news sleuths. They must have been on furlough.

  6. Good point, Jim.
    But here's the unanswered question:
    Why didn't the media complain about being kicked when Obama was there?
    The policy only got media attention after the Republican candidate was there.

  7. 10:37/10:56 I honestly don't know what happened back in March.

  8. The whole concept of a Newseum shows how far journalism has declined in recent years.

    First, since when is it OK to make up words? Newseum? Really? Why not News-arama or News-mania?

    But worse is the blatant self-glorification of a profession that is supposed to draw attention to the news, not to itself. That building (the second one constructed in less than 15 years), is a monument to a dying profession. A huge waste of money.

    Of course, we live in an era when major news companies like Gannett are worried more about marketing and hiring digital whiz kids than than they are upholding the principles of a once noble profession.

    The Newseum is little more than a place for ex-Gannettoids and others to land when they've grown tired or get pushed out of their respective news organizations like USA Today. It sends the wrong message to the public and to people starting out in the business.

    Of course, laying off true news pros by the thousands also sends the wrong message and degrades print, broadcast and digital news products.

    We need more competent editors, reporters, photographers and anchors, and fewer monuments to ourselves. We in editorial departments need to get back to worrying less about circulation and ratings, and more about spelling, objectivity and sound news judgment.

    1. Obviously, the Newseum needs a Purposologist to define itself.

  9. Double standard, you say? Oh gracious, no, we "honestly" just have no idea what happened! Merely a coincidence — nay, a mystery! How dare you question the almighty lamestream media. Nothing to see here; move right along, please.

  10. By Hopkins' rationale, you may assume that he vets and fully endorses any and all goods, services and causes advertised on his site, and stands behind all of them 100%.

  11. Expenses of $250 grand A DAY?! And the person who wears several hats is the LOWEST PAID at over $160,000??!!

    Let's start a Dead Pool: Without a sugar daddy coming to the rescue, which goes under first? The Poynter Institute (St. Pete aka Tampa Bay Times) or The Newseum (Gannett).

  12. I say if they want to play these games, don't cover their stupid false PR events. Why be a pawn of either party?

  13. 2:24 Both are relics of the past and are useless to whoever is left. Goodbye to both.

  14. Jim’s ”rush” to judgment highlights what is wrong with this industry today (he's still a formally trained, mainstream journalist), it either doesn’t take the time to dig, or worse, it shows a bias in what’s reported, that is if it reports certain stories at all – even if known.

    Here’s but one recent example:

    Not long ago, the blogosphere exposed the White House for editing former president’s bios to include self-serving quotes about Obama. ABC’s Tapper, to his credit called it out, though he was nearly alone.

    Now that it’s quieted down, the White House removed it, well almost as they just consolidated it all elsewhere.

    Point is, will Gannett et al remain silent about that too? If it does, it’s further evidence why people seek other sources and why overtime, they learn Gannett and its many peers are increasingly less needed.

  15. 8:42 As I've said, I don't care whether it's Romney or Obama. My concern was and is the Newseum's role in this sorry episode.

    Absent the Freedom Forum/Newseum angle, I'd have never weighed in.

    In any case, your post shows the value in social media providing balance in stories like this.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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