WASHINGTON — At 4:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, the streets of downtown D.C. are dark and deserted. But the second floor of 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is buzzing.
Mike Machado is hustling back and forth between his computer and a long drafting table that’s cluttered with stacks of broadsheets.
“Where is my Missouri paper?” he says, digging through the pile of printed boldface headlines and gripping photos.
He fishes it out of the pile and slides it into an industrial paper cutter to trim the extra white space.
Then, he moves on to Montana.
Each morning, Machado is responsible for printing and hanging 60 front pages from newspapers in all 50 states and a handful of international countries in cases outside the Newseum. Since the museum opened its D.C. location in 2008, it has become one of the city’s most beloved public displays.
“Most people have maybe one or two papers in their hometown to choose from, but this is a way for people to see across a broad spectrum how different publishers from different places present headlines, the photos that are chosen, the way the stories are written,” said Machado, a senior graphics specialist at the Newseum.
Machado has been in charge of the Newseum’s Today’s Front Pages for 19 years, back when the project was much smaller. In its former Rosslyn home, the Newseum’s exhibit included only a handful of front pages that were submitted by just a few publications.
However, that all changed on Sept. 12, 2001 — one day after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. That Wednesday morning, Machado was inundated with 200 front pages from newspapers across the country.
“People think this is important, finally,” Machado remembers thinking.
Now, the Newseum receives more than 900 front pages on a daily basis from newspapers all over the world. Overnight, these publications upload their papers onto one of the Newseum’s servers. By the time Machado arrives for his shift, most all of them are waiting for him.
With a few swift clicks of the mouse, Machado selects the first batch of front pages to send to the printer, and heads outside to take down yesterday’s news. When he’s out there, he’s usually not alone.
“Even when I get in early in the morning and have to take down the ones from the day before, there are people [reading the papers]. Even when there’s no sun up yet,” Machado said.
For the U.S. front pages, Machado selects the larger papers from each state — The Virginian Pilot, The Star-Ledger and The Las Vegas Sun all make the cut on Wednesday.
When it comes to the international papers in the outdoor display, Machado said, “I like to mix them up as much as I can.” That said, a Canadian paper almost always earns a spot. After all, the Newseum is neighbors with the Canadian Embassy.
Throughout the years, Today’s Front Pages has evolved into one of the most important projects at the Newseum. In addition to the 60 papers displayed out front of the building, the Newseum prints out the front pages from 80 newspapers, daily, for an exhibit on the sixth floor, and uploads all of the 900-or-so it receives to its website.
Despite reported revenue declines in recent years, Machado hasn’t seen a major decline in the number of papers he sifts through each morning. He says that’s because print still resonates with many.
“When I started this, back in ‘97, newspapers were still a pretty big, important business. And it’s still very important, and average people, I think, take newspapers very seriously,” he said.
“There are a lot of places in the world where the internet isn’t that accessible, and people need news on paper.”
At 6:53 a.m., Machado collects his stack of trimmed front pages and heads downstairs. Just minutes after the sun rises, he pins the papers to their magnetic cases and closes the glass display windows.
Pages splashed with speech summaries from the Republican National Convention, NASA’s latest exploration and Brexit’s impact on the economy line the sidewalk on what is arguably the most important street in the country.
And just as he clicks the last case closed, two early-morning joggers slow their pace in front of the museum and take in the news of the day.
7/28/16 Editor’s note/clarification: In addition to Machado, other Newseum employees in the graphics department are also tasked with printing and hanging the front pages.