My friend Courtney interns at the Newseum. The Newseum is a News History Museum that just opened a few months ago. Because Courtney works for the Newseum, she was able to take a few of us as her guests, allowing us to visit the exhibits free of charge—the Newseum is one of the few museums in D.C. with an entry fee.
I’ve heard wonderful and horrible things about the Museum, and after spending more than five hours in the Museum on Sunday, I can understand why some people don’t like it, and why I loved it. The Newseum is an interactive history of the news and, up until the invention of television, most news was printed. I know there was radio, but most news remained in newspapers until the advent of TV broadcasts. As such, it is necessary to read some of the exhibits more so than at other museums—I’m guessing that’s why some people tend not to like it.
The building has six floors with approximately 15 exhibits. My two favorite were easily the FBI news history, which had artifacts from some of America’s most notorious crimes, as well as the news articles and history surrounding those crimes. Even as we left the FBI exhibit, Kate and I decided that this museum could easily be one of our favorites in the city.
My other favorite exhibit had all of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs for each category (feature, spot news, etc.) for the last six decades with details on some of the highlighted photographs. Some of the photos were heartwarming, others were heartwrenching and emotionally jarring. Many were of war, famine and human brutality, but there were also those happy photos of families being reunited after those catastrophic events. I think it was this emotional rollercoaster portrayed in the photos that really brought the power of news to the forefront. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and some of the Pulitzer photographs made this true—some of these historical prize-winning photos made people with the power to initiate change realize the extent of the human tragedies taking place.
The Newseum also has a radio antenna from the top of one of the twin towers surrounded by the front pages of every newspaper from 9/11 and a brief documentary film by the first journalists at ground zero. Even before you walk into the theater to watch the documentary, there are boxes of tissues. Many people left the theater crying. The entire time I was watching the documentary, I had goose bumps; I’m not quite sure if it was because the museum is cold—definitely bring a sweater if you come, the museum is freezing—or if it was because I was watching the 9/11 footage for the first time since I was in eighth grade and watched the initial events unfold. The 9/11 exhibit was beautifully done, but it was also a hard exhibit to visit.
There are exhibits on the history of news beginning with the invention of the printing press, the first amendment, a 4-D movie about news history, the Berlin wall with portions of the wall (including an infamous death tower), an interactive exhibit that allows you to become an news anchor and more.
The Newseum was incredible—I might be a bit biased; I was on the newspaper staff in high school, and I am fascinated with history of this variety, but I had an amazing time exploring what the Newseum staff refers to as “current history” because much of what is printed/aired becomes the biggest events in history books.
The presentation of the information at the Newseum with the articles/shows provides extensive background information coupled with artifacts from each of those events. I think it was this combination that made the Newseum more interesting and fun for me to explore than many other museums I’ve been to while in Washington DC.