All the News That's Fit to Print

Trip Start Jan 01, 2009
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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Saturday, February 21, 2009

When it was first suggested that I go to the Newseum in DC, I initially balked at the idea of paying a $20 entrance fee to tour a museum when there are plenty of free museums in the area to explore; however I am glad that I did go.  Appropriately, the museum is located at the site of the old National Hotel, where Booth stayed before he assassinated Lincoln.  At the lower level concourse, the museum provides a short 10 minute orientation film called "What's News?", which details what you can expect to see here.  The film suggested that you tour the museum starting at the top floor, Level 6, and work your way down.  Before heading to the 6th floor, we explored the exhibits located on the concourse.  There was a gallery which contained 8 panels from the Berlin Wall, East German watch tower and the famous sign at Check-point Charlie.  Also located at the concourse, is the area dedicated for the revolving exhibits.  Currently on display, G-Men and Journalists, an interesting collection of articles from the famous/infamous chapters of FBI history.  Here you can find articles such as Dillinger's death mask, Robert Hanssen's Palm Pilot, Unabomber's Manifesto, debris recovered for the Oklahoma City bombing and some of the firearms used to raid Koresh's complex in Waco.  Of particular interest to DC natives, was the trunk of the car used by the DC snipers.

Contrary to the advice given, our next stop was the 4-D theater to watch "I-Witness!", an excellent presentation on three inspiring journalists.  The first clip was the Battle of Lexington with Isiah Thomas providing the written account of the American victory over the British.  Next, we follow Nellie Bly as she goes undercover in a New York state mental asylum.  Her expose' led to the reformation of the care given mentally ill people.  Finally, we witness the first war-time radio broadcast from Edgar R. Murrow during a night bombing raid over London.  After the 4-D experience, we decided to take a lunch break.  Although the price of the cafeteria food is a bit steep, the entrees provided by Wolfgang Puck was delicious...well worth the price.


Now, onward to the 6th floor and the terrace.  I have heard that there was a spectacular view of the Capitol from here...they were not kidding.  I can see why KPMG rented the entire museum for their employees/clients during the Inauguration Parade.  Inside, you can find the current front page hard copies of numerous US/foreign newspapers.  If your hometown paper was not posted, you can search the computer database, which contained several hundred front pages including my hometown's Johnstown Tribune Democrat.  On Level 5, there was an entire gallery dedicated to historic front pages.  The event determined what newspaper was displayed for example the Charleston Mercury declaring the Union has been dissolved, the Honolulu Star Bulletin detailing the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Chicago Tribune celebrating the election of Barrack Obama.  Along the walls were multiple displays from various other news media including 5 theaters for newsreel footage of the early 20th Century.  In the corner was a section of Great books...to be honest I did not find their collection that great.  Before leaving the 5th floor, we stopped and watched on the Big Screen Theater, a 20 minute film clip of the US space program, which not only contained the triumphs (moon landing) but also the tragedies (shuttle explosion).  I was enthralled by the film, but Wilson, one of the members of my group, was not impressed by the size of the "Big Screen".

The main exhibit on the 4th floor was the 9/11 gallery.  At the center of the gallery was a radio tower recovered from the wreckage at Ground Zero.  Ringing the radio tower was a chronological listing of the events on 9/11.  Behind the tower was a photo gallery of pictures taken by a photojournalist who did not survive the collapse of the second tower, but his camera was recovered.  Along one wall was a huge gallery of newspaper front pages covering the attacks of 9/11.  On the other side of the wall was a theater were an award-winning film about the reporters covering that tragic day was running on a continuous loop.  Watching the entire film, I was fighting back tears as the reporters talked about their experiences and as I recalled my experiences/emotions of that day.  Although several years have passed, the memories are still fresh and sharp.  The museum provided a notebook where patrons could write down and share their 9/11 memories.


From the 9/11 gallery we walked along the 5 Freedom Walkway, with the words religion, speech, press, petition and assembly imposed on the glass window facing Pennsylvania Avenue.  The walkway lead to the First Amendment gallery, which detailed the five freedoms guaranteed to every US citizen.  As you walk down to the 3rd level, you run into the Journalists Memorial, which contained the pictures and stories of every journalist who died covering the news.  Everyone else in the group went to tour the mock TV news studio while I spent my time surfing the Internet, TV and Radio gallery.  As I walked through the history of the electronic news media, I wondered how much longer will the printed press survive as a means to broadcast the news of the day.

On my own, I explored the 2nd floor, which contained numerous interactive booths.  Here you can try to read the news in front of a live camera...I chose to skip this.  I did spend some time in front of a computer kiosk playing their interactive games.  One of the games was a first amendment trivia contest, where you are responsible for helping a cartoon track and field character, Bill O. Rights, clear the hurdles (questions) as he races to beat Dick Tator.  In another game you are a photographer taking pictures of a developing news scene about a girl caught in rushing flood water.  At the end you see the pictures you captured and you learn of a similar real life situation, which won Annie Wells the 1997 Pulitzer prize for Spot News Photography.  In the Ethics Center, you are confronted with ethical dilemmas which a journalist may have/had faced.  You make a choice and see the percentage of people and journalist who also selected your option.  Finally, you can listen to two experts as they debate over the ethics of the options.  In the end it was revealed what the journalist chose and the consequences of that choice.  One dilemma was whether you would help a starving child as it crawled towards food/water or take the picture of that child.  Kevin Carter chose to take the picture, which won the 1994 Pulitzer, but he was so haunted by his decision that he later committed suicide.

As you look up from the atrium on the 1st level, you see some of the machines that make global broadcast of news possible.  Hanging from the ceiling was a replica of ATS 1, which made the first live global TV broadcast, and a Bell Jet Ranger, an example of the news chopper which patrols our skies.  Also on Level 1 is my favorite gallery, the gallery of Pulitzer Prize Photographs.  At the entrance is posted the winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, a photograph of the final moments of journalist Kenji Nagai as he was fatally shot during the political protests in Burma.  I have noticed that a lot of the Pulitzer Prize winners captured the last moments of someone's life for example the 1961 winner was the picture of the assassination of Asanuma, Japanese socialist party chairman, by a disgruntle student.  Along the gallery were poster size pictures of some of the winners along with a detailed explanation of the circumstances surrounding the moment.  A lot of the photos, I recognized but did not know they won the Pulitzer for example the famous sports photo of Babe Ruth's retirement ceremony.  Posted along a semi-circular wall were 8x10 photos of all the winners...I believe this is the only complete collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs.  Inside the circle were computer kiosks where you can get more information on any of the photos including video interviews of the photographer discussing the picture.  Also in the middle of the gallery was a theater which displayed a video about various highlighted photos and their photographers.  It was such an awesome gallery; I was compelled to take a piece of it home by buying the Pulitzer Prize photo book found in the Newseum store.
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