By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
An assembly of news organizations banded together yesterday to give $52 million to the Newseum, the museum dedicated to the news business.
Charles L. Overby, chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, said the gift was one of the largest combined media gifts in history.
At a news conference in the unfinished building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the eight donors were introduced as the founding partners of the enterprise. Spaces throughout the $435 million, 250,000-square-foot museum will be named for the organizations and media families.
The New York Times and Ochs Sulzberger family, and News Corp., the empire of Rupert Murdoch, each gave $10 million. Other donors are the family of H.M. "Hank" Greenspun, late founder of the Las Vegas Sun, $7 million; NBC Universal, $5 million; Time Warner, $5 million; Hearst Corp., $5 million; ABC News/Walt Disney Co., $5 million; and the Pulliam family, descendants of Eugene C. Pulliam, whose publishing empire included the Indianapolis Star and Arizona Republic, $5 million.
The gift is not the single most generous to a local museum. In 2000, Kenneth E. Behring, a California real estate executive, gave $80 million to the National Museum of American History. In 1999, Steven Udvar-Hazy, who founded an airplane leasing company, gave $60 million to the National Air and Space Museum. Last year, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a Las Vegas-based charity built with media money, gave $45 million to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Newseum gift will go toward a $100 million capital campaign, said Overby, and the remainder of the $435 million will come from the Freedom Forum foundation. The forum, founded in 1991 by Gannett chief Allen Neuharth, operated the first Newseum in Rosslyn. That closed in 2002 in preparation for the new facility. It had about 2.25 million visitors in five years.
The new seven-level building, to open in fall 2007, will have three times as much exhibition space. The Pennsylvania Avenue side is basically glass, a metaphor for the belief that the press is a "window on the world." A byproduct promises to be postcard-perfect views of the Capitol.
A huge 74-foot-high tablet, made from 50 tons of Tennessee marble, will be carved with the 45 words of the First Amendment.
"Someone suggested that members of Congress will have to see it whether they want to or not," said Newseum President Peter Prichard.
Inside will be a gallery on the 500 years of recorded news, 15 theaters throughout the building, television feeds from around the world, current front pages of 80 newspapers, a memorial to journalists killed reporting the news and a space devoted to Pulitzer Prize photographs. Artifacts will include a bullet-marked pickup truck used in the Balkans conflict by news organizations. Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time Inc., said the vehicle would be a "dramatic reminder" of the risks and bravery of journalists under fire.
Steve Capus, president of NBC News, said, "In this age when any fool with a laptop can call themselves a journalist, I believe it is important to demonstrate to Americans what it means to be a true journalist."
The Newseum is rising on what was the last open site on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol to the White House. The construction is 50 to 60 percent complete, Overby said.
The interactive museum is expected to be a tourist attraction as well as an economic engine for the immediate neighborhood. The developers have announced that chef Wolfgang Puck will operate a restaurant in the building.
Visible from the sidewalk will be a 40-by-22-foot video screen with footage of historical moments and the day's news headlines.
John A. Constance, director of congressional and public affairs at the National Archives, was taking a peek at his new neighbor. "The museum will draw people to this side of the Mall," he said. "For years we have been on the quiet side."