Last Saturday, my wife and I decided to take some family members out to the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the first time I’d been able to visit the place since a pre-pre-pre-opening tour I’d had back in 2006 (when there were practically no displays in place, just the news van and the Checkpoint Charlie tower). And, for the record, the Newseum hooked us up with tickets; even so, I think the museum could be worth the full $20 admission price.
And yes, I said ‘could.’ I’ll qualify that later for you.
The building itself is a marvel of architecture. Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, the combination of open space, glass and concrete blends well within the museum. The mix provides division for each contained exhibit (permanent and visiting), yet bleeds back into the open air of the general concourse. I suppose I could say it’s like the news field and media blending with the openness of life and all that, but why bore you?
The Newseum certainly won’t.
There are a few major exhibits contained within; these are the ones my group and I found ourselves gravitating to during our three-hour visit. First stop was the Berlin Wall, since we were merely two days away from the 20th anniversary of its fall. The Newseum possesses one of the largest collection of wall sections outside of Germany, as well as one of the East German watchtowers of Checkpoint Charlie. (You can easily tell which side of the wall was West and East Berlin, by the way.)
This particular exhibit was fairly busy, considering the significance of the anniversary. We found ourselves sharing our own memories of the Cold War amongst ourselves and even with a couple of other visitors. A pretty congenial and friendly atmosphere, to be honest.
The other exhibit that held most of our attention was the 9/11 gallery. Unlike the Berlin Wall section, the atmosphere here was that of a chapel – respectful, quiet, even sorrowful. Centerpiece to the gallery is the mangled remains of the 31′ antenna mast from the World Trade Center. Adorning one entire wall – spanning two floors – was the front pages of 127 different newspapers with their headlines from the attack. (The most amusing? The San Francisco Chronicle’s “Bastards!” in massive typeface.) A small theater near the back has items recovered from freelance photographer William Biggart, who was killed when the second tower fell. It shows many of the digital images he took just before he died. Another theater has various first-hand accounts from several witnesses of the New York and DC attacks.
Here, respect and silence lingered.
You can’t say the same for the News Corporation News History gallery, however. Containing hundreds of front pages, newsbooks, plates, magazines and other artifacts in a very neat “drawer” style display, it was easily the most crowded area in the entire museum. Four television stations played various news and journalism show clips from various decades; each had a constant ‘grouping’ of visitors. The gallery is dark but the pages and artifacts well-lit; you could easily spend hours reading everything. (A common comment by our guests, by the way.) Small touchscreens offered quizzes for kids and adults alike, to better educate and inform.
Okay, need a breather by now? Step outside on the terrace. On gorgeous days – like the day we went – the view to the Capitol is stunning. You can browse the front pages from all fifty states, the District and several countries (updated every morning at 6 a.m.) to see how stories and coverage compares. The terrace doubles as an entertainment venue for private functions in the evening.
The Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio gallery was also a key point of interest for us. Arranged in a timeline of electronic media, various LCD screens allowed you to select news video clips of important / historic events, like OJ’s infamous white Bronco chase and the Challenger explosion. Taken from start to finish, a visitor could easily follow the progression – and importance – of the electronic medium for news.
There are other exhibits and points of interest as well: the Journalists Memorial (1,913 names of journalists who died while reporting the news, from 1837 through 2008), the Pulitzer Prize photography gallery (some graphic but all evocative and emotional pieces), and the Annenberg 4-D theater. The interactive opportunities for all ages really allows a great hands-on learning experience (something I really wish the Spy Museum did better) but we didn’t really have the time to enjoy them. We also missed out on spying on the production crew in the Master Control room, checking out the Great Books gallery and messing around in the Ethics Room.
So, back to my statement about “could be worth” the admission price…
If you make this your primary stop for the day, it’s certainly worth it. A food court (appropriately named the “Food Guide”) on the bottom caters to your growling stomach when you need sustenance, so no need to exit and return. There is a ton of stuff to digest intellectually and visually, so if you block out at least six hours, you’ve gotten more than your money’s worth. Especially if you’re part of a larger group.
But if you’re going for a short time – a couple hours – then not so much. There’s simply so much to do and see that if you don’t have a plan beforehand, you’re going to seriously run out of time. And even when you know where you want to go – like we did – it’s easy to get lost and linger, soaking in the exhibit and the atmosphere. With the museum open 9-5 daily, staying late really isn’t an option.
So, is it worth it? If you’re a lover of media, journalism or even just historic events, then yes. Just plan to spend some serious time there to make it worthwhile, or watch for special admission rates that are offered from time to time.
Here, old news can still be pretty darn good.
Check out my complete gallery of photos from our afternoon trip. The Newseum is open 9 – 5 daily, closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Admission is $20 for ages 19-64, $18 for 65+, $13 for kids 7-18, and free for children 6 and under.