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Media families help to create museum of our times

News : Talk Of The Town

A museum dedicated solely to news will reopen later this year complete with galleries, theatres and a multi-million-dollar price tag. Marc Smith finds out how some of the world's most powerful media families helped make it happen.

Marc Smith is deputy editor of Families in Business.

It may sound like a pun any self-respecting tabloid subeditor would be proud of, but perhaps you wouldn't expect America's museum of news to be called anything else. Newseum, which has been fully revamped since it closed in 2002, has announced it is to reopen its doors on 15 October this year.

Established in 1997 by the Freedom Forum, a news media foundation originally endowed by the publishers of USA Today, Newseum has upped sticks from its original site in Arlington, VA, to Washington, DC, with one sole aim – to appeal to a much larger audience.

The 250,000 square foot building will feature seven levels of galleries and theatres that will take visitors behind the scenes to experience how and why news is made, and will offer them an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits. Highlights include a journalists memorial to honour those who have died while reporting the news; a world news gallery where visitors can watch television news and compare press freedoms in more than 190 countries; and the largest and most comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalism ever assembled.

Family philanthropy
The total cost of the project, which includes the museum, a conference centre, offices and apartments, is $435 million. And a significant amount of that figure has been supplied by some of the world's wealthiest media families: The New York Times' Ochs-Sulzberger family; the Murdoch family's News Corporation; the Greenspun family, publishers of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper; the Pulliam family, former owners of 46 newspapers, including the Indianapolis Star; and the Cox family, proprietors of Cox Enterprises Inc.

The First Amendment Gallery has just received the backing of Cox Enterprises, who have donated $6 million to sponsor it. Through films, artifacts and exhibits, the gallery aims to establish the modern-day relevance of the five freedoms – religion, speech, press, assembly and petition – guaranteed by the First Amendment.

"Everything we hold dear as a democratic society – including the basic concepts of personal freedom and open government – is protected by the First Amendment," said Jimmy W Hayes, Cox Enterprises president and chief operating officer. "On behalf of the more than 80,000 employees of Cox Enterprises, we're honoured to be able to make this gift. It's our way of celebrating the First Amendment. It's also our way of helping to keep a free press free."

The families became involved in the project when they were approached by the Freedom Forum. There were no outside donors – families or organisations – involved in the original Newseum, but seeking outside support was integral to the new version. "Media families are an important part of this project," says Mary Kay Blake, Freedom Forum senior vice president/development. "Not only for the $17 million of our $59 million in announced gifts that they represent, but because of their strong belief in, for example, the First Amendment as the foundation of our democracy."

A growing trend
Such philanthropic gestures are part of a growing trend by families to put money into joint ventures. Rather than attempting to "do good" in isolation, families are increasingly looking to combine forces with others to increase the impact of their donations. And when doing good is also helping your bottom line, it's a situation that is good news all round.

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