Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Newseum

The Newseum is a fairly new museum near the Capitol and the Mall in Washington where the Smithsonian and National Gallery are located. It's expensive (especially since the other museums are all free). I think the museum suffers from an identity problem. There are so many aspects of journalism, the press, and newspapers that seem to be missing. Example: there's virtually nothing about feature writing unless you count the name of the restaurant: "The Food Section." There are some aspects of investigative journalism, especially some history in the "4-D" film. What IS there, however, is compelling and worth seeing.

Clearly the sponsors of this very expensive museum want to preserve some memory of journalism as it was and is about to not be any more. A vast selection of old front pages with the biggest headlines of the last 100 years or so invite one to take a really long time to contemplate what the front page was like. Fascinating -- but I would have liked more background about the papers themselves and the writers. A display of all the photos to have won a Pulitzer prize was startling in how disturbing they were. Wars, natural disasters, and accidents are frequent themes. We had to leave because the children were reacting. Interesting.

TV journalism is well represented, with a number of studios where visitors standing against a blank screen can make "newscasts" or "weather reports." That's fun. Nearby are video screens with a game of being a journalist for kids, and other things I did not explore.

A special exhibit commemorated the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, stressing that journalists took the photos on display. A large section of the Berlin Wall, along with a full watchtower and a history of the Wall occupy a big section of the basement and the twisted remnant of the World Trade Center's control tower is also on display. Other than having been the subjects of news, their relationship to journalism isn't clarified, but the objects are well presented. Again, it's worthwhile, just somewhat unfocused.

The building is extremely impressive, as shown in the photos below. A huge glass elevator goes from the lower level (Berlin Wall in the background) up to the top where there's a fabulous panorama of the city.

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