Housed in a grand, glass-walled structure with the First Amendment engraved on a large panel outside the front entrance, the Newseum remains one of the more accessible, interesting, and moving museums I’ve ever visited in my life.
I visited when I saw The Young Turks taping the first hour of their online news show a few weeks ago, and I spent the morning wandering through the exhibits and learning a lot about the news in America and freedom of the press around the world. Using a combination of striking visuals and carefully curated exhibits, the Newseum offers an in-depth, informative, and engaging overview of the news in all its forms over the years. Exhibits included the Berlin Wall, from the lead-in to the eventual tearing down of the wall; a comprehensive look at 9/11 and all its aftermath; and the evolution of news, from print all the way to online news reporting.
Inside the Newseum.
When I visited, the exhibit that struck me the most was the collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. In a darkened wing, tucked away by the coat check, the photographs were illuminated with spotlights that showed entire scenes in all their glory. From photographs depicting scenes of war or wreckage from natural disasters to capturing moments of striking, simple happiness in a Chicago neighborhood, the range of photographs was a powerful display of what photography can accomplish.
As a barely-amateur photographer that still totes around an outdated DSLR when I’m out and about in the city, seeing the photographs moved me, and made me understand why so many people take their photography so seriously. But many of these prize-winning photographs were captured almost incidentally, in the middle of intense conflict or in a moment when the entire world was caught by surprise. Although I would love to capture photographs that are as moving and momentous as some of the ones that I saw, I also think that I would have a difficult time hanging back and simply observing the action that unfolds.
Part of the exhibit on the Berlin Wall, another moving and striking exhibit. One of many.
The entire museum was a great reminder of what the news is meant to accomplish, that is, to examine events and public figures critically. It seems that neutrality nowadays is the ultimate goal of “good news reporting,” but too often neutrality can lead to mistakenly balancing two ideas that should not be considered with equal weight, and manipulating the general public into accepting the status quo.
At the time I was visiting, it seemed perfectly fitting that I was seeing The Young Turks at the Newseum, an online news show that doesn’t pretend to be neutral, and instead is intensely critical of the actions taken by the leaders of the country, and of the world.
Inside the Knight Studio at the Newseum, before the Young Turks taping.
Visiting the museum also brought back memories of my own childhood dreams of wanting to be a journalist. It was purely a whim; I wanted to be a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, even though I had no idea what kind of publication the Wall Street Journal was. Even though I’ve deviated from that dream, being in the Newseum suddenly made me remember writing up my own fictional news, formatting the text and images in a Word processor, printing out a copy to send to one of my godmothers in Florida.
Now that I’m all grown up, I can better appreciate that curiosity about news reporting, and better understand the media and all its facets. Visiting the Newseum rekindled a fire that I had forgotten had gone out.