The Bad News about the Newseum

Even though I’ve been a working journalist for more than 30 years, I’m not a true news junkie. I can go cold turkey. I’m perfectly happy to go on vacation and not surf the Net, watch TV, or read the newspaper. In fact, that’s my idea of a perfect vacation. I have to give myself breaks from the onslaught of information (in the old days I would have called it “news” ) or I just burn out.

For a newsie, my sense of timing is a little off. I hate jumping on the bandwagon. I’m perfectly happy to be out of step with the masses, reading about the Civil War when everyone else is focused on World War II or delving deep into Thomas Jefferson’s life when the rest of the gang’s hot and bothered about John Adams.

So don’t be surprised to find me extolling a book that came out last year or dissecting a hurricane that happened nearly three years ago. Why? Because it’s my blog and I can do what I want to. No editor saying, “The competition had that story six weeks ago. Why do you want to write about it now?”

After that running start, which any Journalism 101 professor will tell you belongs in File 13, here’s the real lead: I’m just catching up with the brouhaha surrounding the reopening of the Newseum on Apr. 11. If you had asked me about the original Newseum, which I never visited, I would have told you that it was some outpost of USA Today in Virginia, basically Al Neuharth’s love child.

But after four years in the making and $450 million, the new improved Newseum wants to be a full-fledged member of the museum elite on Washington D.C.’s National Mall. On the eve of its opening, Slate ran a piece by Jack Shafer urging folks to boycott the press pavilion. Here’s the link: 

Besides noting the $20 admission fee, Shafer’s up in arms about what he calls the “fetishizing of trivial relics,” including the satchel, pencil, and eyeglasses belonging to reporter Mark Kellogg of the Bismarck Tribune, who was killed at Little Big Horn.

Hey, isn’t that what museums do? More to the point, that’s what our society does. Vogue wouldn’t have 800 pages in its September issue each year if we didn’t fetishize consumer products.

Putting Wonkette’s bedroom slippers and other media detritus under glass isn’t what troubles me about the Newseum. As a former typesetter who still likes the feel of newsprint in her hands, I’m worried about the future. Museums usually showcase things that don’t exist anymore, you know, like dinosaurs or the Roman Empire. If they’ve built a shining glass and steel monument to journalism on the Mall, it can only mean one thing: Media, as we know it, is on the verge of extinction.

By the way, I’m not the only newsie who has come to this conclusion. Check at this post at “The Future of News”:

No question about it: The barbarian bloggers aren’t at the gates; they’re in the newsroom. Strike that. They ARE the newsroom. Say good-bye to fact-checking, spelling, grammar, balance, fairness — that stuff’s so last millennium. 

With the prodigious amount of free content floating around the Web, some of it very well-written, it’s getting harder and harder for journalists to make a buck. I recently asked an editor how much I should bill him for some digital work I did and he informed me that it was customary not to pay contributors at this particular Web site.

Why else do you think I’m doing my best Sybil the Soothsayer (from the film “Network,” for those of you not familiar with the character) with an astrology blog? Folks actually want to pay me to do astrological readings. That’s becoming less true for my journalistic endeavors. As the Ice Age descends over the newsroom, I’m looking at my crystal ball, my tea leaves, my charts — anything to get a read on the future and some money in the bank.

So, on with the show! Let’s look at the Newseum opening chart, set for 9 a.m. on Apr. 11 in Washington D.C.

The talking points: Gemini rising and Mercury the chart ruler are perfect for a museum dedicated to the media. Sun/Mercury in Aries points to the self-aggrandizement that Shafer bemoans in the piece I’ve linked to above. Neptune in Aquarius sextile the Aries stellium, which also includes Venus in Aries — there’s some confusion about mission. I suspect there’s more glamour than substance here.

The real problem is a combative Moon/Mars conjunction in Cancer in the second house of resources. The Cancer planets square the Aries stellium in the 11th house of “hopes and dreams” (a catchall phrase if I ever heard one!) and oppose Jupiter in Capricorn, forming a nice T-square.  Who’s going to pay for all of this? Based on the Jupiter in Cap in the seventh house, the media elite of this country.

It’s a good thing the Newseum has such well-heeled patrons because with a $20 admission charge, they’re not going to get enough visitors to keep the lights on. Yes, there’s backing from the Freedom Forum, Neuharth’s group, and other media family foundations, but some benefactors are going to get fed up about the amount of money required to sustain this — dare I say it? — white elephant.

Most of the museums in Washington D.C. are funded by the government and your tax dollars, even the National Museum of the American Indian, which is part of the Smithsonian. Maybe Old Media needs to cut a deal with the Native Americans, who are using some of the stupendous profits from their casinos to build museums about tribal customs of yesteryear. If not a joint operating agreement, perhaps a reality TV show that takes place in the Newseum: American Media Mogul or Who Wants to be a Newspaper Owner?