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Newseum - See All About It
Newest museum in U.S. Capital
Stop the presses!
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
The newest museum in the nation’s capital is a DO NOT MISS !
Now, that’s a headline. That’s not burying the lede.
In its new location, the Newseum is in a great position to add a boost to anyone’s visit to Washington, D.C. Just the view from the second floor balcony is worth the price of admission. With an unobstructed view of Capitol Hill to your left and the majestic towers of the Smithsonian mansion to your right, this location is a vast improvement over where this facility started out in Arlington, across the Potomac, and off the beaten path for D.C.'s visitors.
My recent visit was my third attempt to pay homage to the Mecca of American journalism. In 2004 I was in D.C. when the Newseum was being moved to its current location. A couple of years later on another trip to our capital the museum was under renovation. On a third effort, I’ve blocked out whatever reason prevented me from at last perusing our history of covering the country’s major news events. But, I can objectively report: the wait was worth it.
Inscribed in marble on the front of the building on Pennsylvania Avenue are the words of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A more appropriate sign to identify what is contained inside could not be devised.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
On the sidewalk, where breaking news historically first came into contact with inquiring minds, the front pages of the day’s major newspapers are on display in alphabetical order. The A-B-C order makes it easy for you to find you favorites – and your least favorites.
After purchasing your ticket (the most economical choice is a two sequential days pass - and it will take you two days to see everything) you are directed to begin on the first of seven levels where a video will give you an overview of the museum. You find the theater just past actual sections of the Berlin Wall that came down on November 9, 1989, heralding freedom to East Germany. Over the night of August 12 and 13, 1961, those citizens had their liberty to come and go as they chose literally blocked by the Soviet Union. Thirty years later that obstacle to freedom nation no longer exists either.
Axiom of reporting
Worth a thousand words:
While the printed word is idealized as the number one attraction throughout the Newseum, the photograph is a close second. While I was there a special exhibit was on display featuring sports photography. Moments capturing the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” lined the walls. Muhammad Ali, Bear Bryant, Kristi Yamaguchi, to name only a few, were revealed in their most telling pictures.
You think you’ve seen and heard all that could be reported on September 11, 2001? You have not even come close until you’ve walked through the 9/11 exhibit in the Newseum. A two-story wall displays every major newspaper’s front page for September 12, 2011. It is overwhelming. You are forced to ask yourself just how many ways can a single story be told?
One photojournalist died on that day. I’m not sure I knew that, though I’ve seen his pictures. I just never realized they cost William Biggart his life. A video chronicles his work and the moment by moment of that day, if you can bear to relive it.
Extensive galleries of the top news stories of their day document our nation’s journey, our highs and lows, and the monumental events that have shaped our times. There is even a video cubical dedicated to journalists being poked fun at by famous late night comedians.
By far the most compelling exhibit for me was the display of every single Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. Many of them were familiar to me, as they would be to anyone who grew up in the U.S., because they document in a single picture those moments in our history that are worth a thousand words. But the fascinating feature of the exhibit was the video describing the circumstances of the photos being taken. Nine times out of ten the indelible image was shot by someone who just happened to be at the right place at the right time with a camera in their hand. Even those photographs taken with the skill of a professional photojournalist very often were spur of the moment shots where the shooter didn’t realize the significance of the picture they had just taken. And with most of them being taken in the era of film and time-consuming development, many shooters didn’t even get to see their pictures until they were published. How the digital world has changed the life of a photographer! If you've ever gone out on assignment to get "the money shot" and come back to the newsroom not sure you got it - you know what I'm talking about.
When the picture is not the whole story
And then there is the map of the world showing what areas are most and least open to freedom of the press. We so take this freedom for granted, as if everyone, everywhere enjoys it as we do in America. Many don’t.
This display leads to the room where journalists who have lost their lives in pursuit of their profession are honored. The list is in chronological order, which is simply powerful. What is also striking is how often the death occurred in just the daily routine of doing the job of a reporter. A kiosk allows you to select any name on the list and hear the details of the event that led to the loss of life for the journalist.
The actual door with its lock tapped open at the Watergate Hotel complex that led to the only resignation of a U.S. president.
The bombed out SAAB sedan that took the life of investigative reporter, Don Bolles of the Arizona Republic, in 1976. He wrote exposés on the drug war.
The behind-closed-doors shots of our presidents by their personal photographers. Who was the only modern day president not to have one? You’ll find out sitting through the big screen video of these telling pictures.
An exact duplicate of the late Meet The Press correspondent Tim Russert's office.
And there’s more. There is so much more.
When I was there, the Newseum was preparing for a special exhibit on the process of covering a presidential election called "Every Four Years." I can only hope I have reason to return to Washington, D.C. before it goes the way of all breaking stories as the news cycle soldiers on.
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited."