Newseum trims 13 percent of its staff in second round of layoffs

TOUGH TIMES: Visitors continue to come to the Newseum, but diminished donations have forced the attraction to make cuts.
TOUGH TIMES: Visitors continue to come to the Newseum, but diminished donations have forced the attraction to make cuts. (Gerald Martineau/the Washington Post)
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Newseum, one of Washington's newest attractions, has trimmed its staff for the second time since reopening in its new, larger location on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in April 2008.

In the latest round of dismissals, which took place late last month, the Newseum eliminated 29 full-time positions, or 13 percent of personnel. It has now reduced its staff by 23 percent overall.

"The cuts are spread throughout the organization, but should not affect the experience of museum visitors," said Kenneth Paulson, the museum's president. He added there were "minor cutbacks" within the floor staff, the workers who interact most with visitors.

Many museums in Washington, where the majority of the large attractions are subsidized by the government, have suffered from the fallout of the recession. In the Newseum's case, Paulson said, fundraising was the hurdle. "All of our donors who had made pledges filled them. But we saw fewer new donors. We fell about 20 percent shorter than our budgeted figure," he said. The museum, which chronicles the history of how the news has been covered and disseminated, had 300 employees at the outset, a number that in part reflected personnel needs surrounding the Newseum's opening. By November 2008, just before the first round of layoffs, the staff numbered 250; it now stands at 181 people. Additionally, several employees lost to attrition have not been replaced.

On the positive side, the Newseum has had solid attendance. "We will top 720,000, we are trending ahead of that," Paulson said. "Month after month, we had exceeded last year's numbers. And our catering operations continue to drive revenue."

In other museum personnel news, the Smithsonian Institution has received 158 responses to the voluntary buyout plan it announced in late September. Those employees who have declared their intentions to leave can change their minds until January.

The Smithsonian said it wanted to trim its staff of 6,000 for economic reasons, including a substantial decline in its endowment, and because of a reorganization plan. The last time the Smithsonian offered a buyout, in 2003, 238 employees left. The institution had hoped to reach that plateau this time, said Linda St. Thomas, the museum's chief spokeswoman.

"The difference is the economy," St. Thomas said, speculating on why fewer employees accepted the buyout offer. With the Smithsonian's operating budget set for 2010, she said no buyouts would be offered next year.

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