Can Ron Burgundy save the Newseum?

November 14, 2013 10:10 PM

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Since the opening of the $450 million building on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008, the Newseum has had successive rounds of layoffs. A January layoff trimmed 32 of 152 full-time employees from the Newseum and its parent organization, the Freedom Forum, a foundation dedicated to freedom of the press. A few weeks later, around 80 part-time positions were also cut (around a quarter of those were later hired back as full-time staff). For years, the Newseum’s expenses have outpaced revenues. In 2011, it had a $7.6 million deficit. Just released budget figures for 2012 show that despite layoffs, the budget shortfall grew to $8.3 million with operating expenses at $68 million. Financial reports continue to show the Freedom Forum endowment providing nearly half of the Newseum’s 2012 revenue, a practice experts say is risky.

“In the museum field, we treasure our endowments and, like all nonprofits, want to be able to preserve that as a cushion,” says Martha Morris, an associate professor of museum studies at George Washington University. Boards have to carefully weigh how heavily they rely on endowment funds. “All museu...

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