Thursday, February 9, 2012

#68 Museums: The Newseum

Goal #68 is to visit 5 museums I've never been to before, but after re-visiting the Newseum this weekend I decided that it counts. Mainly because it's completely different from the last time I was there. This might have been, in part, because I only spent a few hours there the last time I visited, but many of the exhibits that I remembered were no longer around.

The Newseum is (unsurprisingly) mostly about the news. How the news is told, famous news stories, famous headlines and popular topics. As you walk up to the Newseum, along the street outside, you can read the current day's headlines from newspapers all around the U.S. When you first walk in, you're struck by how incredibly large it is, the lobby is big enough that a news chopper hanging from the ceiling looks kind of small.

Upon entering, we were invited to have a picture taken of our group, which we picked up (for free!) before leaving that day.
The backdrop was a surprise for us, as they took the picture in front of a green screen (which was a nice little show and tell of technology utilized in the news room!)

First stop was downstairs where we watched a quick 2 minute video that told us all about the Newseum and suggested the best way to see all of the exhibits. It also informed us that our tickets were good not just for the day we were there, but the next day as well. This is because there is so much to see in the Newseum that unless you get there when it opens, or unless you move through museums very quickly, it's impossible to see everything in one day.

Almost every exhibit has some kind of video going, most of them have multiple vidoes. They are a combination of news reports from the past and commentary by the reporters and others who lived through the events being reported. We not only got to see part of the Berlin Wall and one of the guard towers, but we were given the history of the wall, the towers and the politics from several different televisions. One television showed the news reports that happened when the wall first went up, and another showed the live coverage of the night the border was opened and people celebrated atop the wall and began tearing it down.

Inside the tower are inscriptions and you can hear voices above you, giving orders and passwords back and forth. Several floors up in the museum, along a walk way, you can finally get a closer view of the top of the very tall guard tower.
We watched a 4-D movie about the history of reporting. It told the story of three different reporters, all of whom made their mark on the way the news was reported - from a written first hand account of the revolutionary war, to the first woman investigative reporter who committed herself to a mental institution to report on how people were treated there, to the first reporter to ever bring a European war into American houses over the radio waves as bombs rained down on London. It was a fun and silly movie with a fairly serious message.

We were obviously more silly than serious.
There are a lot of exhibits, most of them geared towards some kind of education. It's surprising how few people know the rights granted to them by the first amendment - I remembered freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, but didn't get freedom of petition. In that exhibit there was a video feed of someone walking around DC and asking people on the street if they knew their freedoms. It was shocking how many of them couldn't name more than two, and sad how many couldn't even name one.

I played a video game designed to test my knowledge on my rights.

I am proud to say I only got one wrong and "won" the race, despite the incorrect advice given to me by some of my fellow museum goers =)

Perhaps the most moving of the permanent exhibits is the 9-11 exhibit, centered around the radio antenna from the top of one of the World Trade Center buildings.

Behind that wall is a televised memorial to a photo journalist who died in the line of duty, running towards the towers and taking photographers the entire way. The last hour and a half of his life is documented, up to the moment when the tower fell and debris filled the streets, killing him.

If that's not enough to bring the tears, off to the left, behind the wall covered with the front pages of newspapers about 9-11, is a small room where you can watch the news coverage from that day. Reporters tell their stories, talk about their struggle to report the news as they tried to cope with what was happening around and in front of them. One of them caught the fall of the first tower on video by accident before having to run for his life. Another snuck onto Ground Zero after being kicked out once, and he took the famous picture of firemen raising the American Flag over the debris. Fortunately there are boxes of tissues at the entranceways to the room.

There are far too many exhibits to talk about. Fortunately a lot of them are fun and happy, balancing out the sadder stories. The gallery filled with Pulitzer Prize winning photos has a lot of horror and a lot of joy just in that small space.

If you ever have an entire day free, or are lucky enough to have two days and a lot of energy, the Newseum is definitely a place to check out. You won't regret it.

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