Open since April 11, 2008, the Newseum is as much a fun house of participatory experiences and special-effects exhibits as it is a museum. In fact, the Newseum's tag line, "World's Most Interactive Museum," conveys its purpose in allowing the visitor to step into the picture: to play the reporter, TV journalist, researcher, or editor. The museum boasts 125 interactive game stations, 2 state-of-the-art broadcast studios, 14 galleries, and 15 theaters. At this particular time in history, with the business of journalism undergoing a world of change, the six-story Newseum manages to capture the magic of past, current, and future ways of covering the news.
First, take a look at the exterior, best viewed from across Pennsylvania Avenue. Covering the left side of the facade is a 75-foot-high tablet inscribed with words from the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech or of the press . . . "). Through its glass front, one can see (though much better at night) the huge high-definition screen hanging inside the atrium, spinning news story images. When you cross the street to enter the museum, you walk by a display of the day's front pages electronically obtained from newspapers across the country and around the world. Once inside, staff direct you first to the orientation film on the lower level (personally, I'd say skip this), then to the glass elevators that shoot you to the sixth floor. The outdoor promenade on its own is worth the price of admission, since it offers you a breathtaking view of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol. Also take time to read the fascinating history of Pennsylvania Avenue and of the city, presented in an exhibit that runs the length of the terrace.
Fifth-floor exhibits cover history. A display of "Great Books" presents 20 books and documents (originals, not copies) that are widely considered our "cornerstones of freedom." These include the 1475 printing of Thomas Aquinas's "Summa Theologica" and a 1215 edition of the Magna Carta. Next to the display is a touch screen; touch the image of the book you'd like to examine and the screen presents that book, allowing you to scroll through the first few pages. Nearby, the History Gallery showcases the Newseum's extensive collection of historic newspapers and magazines, tracing 500 years of news. Several theaters on this floor continuously play short documentaries in which esteemed journalists talk about ethics, sources, "getting it right," and other topics.
On the fourth floor, the First Amendment Gallery explores the historical contexts of the five freedoms. The 9/11 Gallery displays items recovered at the World Trade Center, images and reporting from that day, and an 11-minute film featuring personal stories by journalists who covered the attacks. While at first glance it appears to be a modern sculpture, one artifact on display here is in fact a 360-foot piece of the antenna that had stood on top of the North Tower.
On the third floor, check out the display of New Yorker cartoons joshing the news. In the World News Gallery, you can tune in to a current news broadcast from one of many countries (I listened briefly to a report from France on the Tour de France). The "Dateline: Danger" exhibit displays artifacts from hazardous missions that journalists have undertaken -- including the laptop computer used by Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl before he was killed and the bloodstained notebook of TIME magazine reporter Michael Weisskopf, who lost his hand in an explosion in Iraq. Following that exhibit is the Journalists Memorial, a sobering display of 1,843 names written in a glass tablet to mark the deaths of those journalists who have died in pursuit of the news between 1837 and 2007. Elsewhere on this floor are several studios used by news organizations -- including NPR and ABC -- to broadcast programs. Visitors can sit in the audience during broadcasts or take behind-the-scenes tours when the studios are not in use.
A veritable playground for news junkies of all ages awaits on the second floor. An interactive newsroom with 48 kiosks allows you to test your skills as a photojournalist, editor, reporter, or anchor. An ethics center tests your sense of ethics. And, for a price ($8.50), you can try your hand at news anchor, reading from a teleprompter as a staff person tapes you, then watching your performance on screen.
The first floor's gallery of Pulitzer Prize photographs leaves one speechless. The gallery's database of interviews with some of the photographers, a documentary, and vignettes accompanying the photos offer fascinating context to the craft and to the stories behind the photographs.
Last but not least, return to the concourse level to view the I-Witness, a 4-D film feature that makes you feel as if you're on the scene with legends Isaiah Thomas (radical printer, not basketball legend), Nellie Bly, and Edward R. Murrow. I'm not saying another word, except: Don't miss it.
The Newseum's on-site restaurant, the Source, is already a favorite of Washingtonians. The museum has several gift shops.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2009