Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 24, 2020

Hopkins should partner with the Newseum, not leave it to find a new home

By ALEX GOLDBERG | December 5, 2019

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NativeForeigner/CC BY-SA 3.0 US

The Newseum building, located in Washington DC, was purchased by Hopkins in January 2019.

Hopkins recently bought the Newseum building, home of a museum dedicated to preserving the history of our news media and honoring our freedoms of speech and the press. As such, it will be closing its doors at the end of the year.

I’ve spent the last semester in D.C., and one of the things that stands out most from my time here is my visit to the Newseum. I made visiting a top priority, and wow — I’m glad I did.

The Newseum isn’t just a museum about news, though there is plenty of news-related memorabilia to geek out about if that’s your thing. (Don’t miss the original copy of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper). Beyond that, it is a testament to our country’s bedrock freedoms. It is a celebration of our rights to speak freely, to question our elected officials and to assemble when we disagree with a policy. 

The Newseum approaches these issues from all angles. Never before has a museum made me cry on three separate occasions and for three different reasons.

Number one was from laughing at the Jon Stewart exhibit. Number two was due to the raw emotion and variety of human experiences encapsulated in the gallery of Pulitzer-winning photographs. The third time was looking up at the mangled corpse of the radio tower from the World Trade Center after it was destroyed on 9/11, backdropped by front pages from around the world depicting that harrowing day.

If you can visit before the Newseum closes at the end of the year, you should be sure to. They are even offering a discount because they are “on deadline.”

But beyond the content of the Newseum, there were two other interactions at the site that will stay with me. The first occurred when I was buying my ticket. I saw that they offer a discounted student rate and so I presented my J-Card. “I don’t know if I can give you the student discount, sir, you’re the ones putting us out of business!” the clerk said, only half-joking. 

Second, as I was leaving, I overheard a steward telling another patron that the Newseum didn’t know where its next home would be. He explained that they were actively looking for another location and hoped that they could partner with a university or other institution. 

Right then, alarm bells started going off in my head. What is Hopkins doing? Why aren’t we partnering with the Newseum?

Instantly, rather than being the villain in the Newseum’s story, we could gain all kinds of goodwill. The Hopkins name would be attached to a premier museum, one which attracts visitors from all over the world. 

There are also multiple tangible benefits that the University could receive by partnering with the Newseum. I envision faculty working with the Newseum on research projects. 

The new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute and the Newseum could co-sponsor incredible speakers and other events. Students and other Hopkins affiliates would have access to the Newseum’s resources. 

I’m sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg and this partnership would find all kinds of incredible and groundbreaking manifestations.

Furthermore, this would be an easy way for Hopkins to put its money where its mouth is on issues of free speech and protest. The University claims to be a bastion of free speech. President Daniels is even teaching a course about the relationship between universities and democracies during Intersession. 

With all the blowback surrounding last spring’s sit-in at Garland Hall and what some decry as University crackdowns on free speech, shouldn’t Hopkins want to get any kind of goodwill that it can on this front? To give the Newseum a new home would be an easy way for us to take tangible action to support free speech, going beyond rhetoric.

The Newseum clearly would benefit from partnering with Hopkins as well. They chose to sell the building because they needed the money. By only maintaining a part of the building, their costs would go down.

Furthermore, they would only have to pay rent and not the overhead, decreasing their costs even more. For Hopkins, this rent could be used to offset the $372.5 million price tag on the new building.

I am not arguing that the University should abandon its move into the Newseum building. It is absolutely in the best interest of the University to centralize some of our operations in a new facility in downtown D.C. But why we aren’t willing to work with the Newseum, at least to provide it a temporary home, is beyond me. 

Alex Goldberg is a junior International Studies and Political Science major from outside of Albany, N.Y. This semester, he is an Aitchison Public Service Fellow, studying at the Hopkins campus in Washington, D.C.

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