Today we spent part of the day here at the Newseum. For me, it was an emotional experience.
Some of you may know that I spent most of my college years and a couple years after college working as a newspaper reporter. It was my dream job and I miss it.
While everyone has their opinions about the media, I believe the media plays a hugely important role in our world: to tell the stories of people who aren’t otherwise heard and to challenge those in power and keep them in check. Although media is changing and morphing into something different than it had been in the past, and although my beloved newspaper industry is fading, I still strongly believe in the fourth branch.
That being said, Newseum was an incredible place for me to experience.
Opened in 2008, the Newseum is exactly what it sounds like – a museum made up of news. Some of the exhibits that we toured today included the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, “Inside Today’s FBI,” Berlin Wall Gallery, 9/11 Gallery and “Reporting Vietnam.”
Not only were there interesting artifacts coupled with fascinating back-stories, but it was as if we were walking through history. All of the things that we grew up watching, or learning about in school, were there for us to see. We saw Walter Chronchite’s teleprompter script, we saw the cameras of Pulitzer Prize winning photographers, and we saw incredible photos. It was surreal to be there.
It was also hard to be there. We saw and relived some of our worlds darkest past: cell phones used to detonate bombs around the world, photos of starving children, a section of the Berlin Wall, and a mangled piece of the spire that used to sit above one of the twin towers.
The news is oftentimes difficult, and standing in front of 70+ years of Pulitzer Prize winning photos was more often tear-inducing than not. Thankfully, there were tissues strategically placed around some exhibits to help.
At the same time, while walking around the museum I was feeling proud. Proud of an industry that has such an incredible power and proud to have been a reporter, albeit for a short time.
I was also feeling disheartened. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by James Carville, a former lead strategist for President Bill Clinton’s campaign, and political commentator. Carville was quoted in a round table that I watched saying: “People use information today like a drunk uses a lamppost. They use it for support, not for illumination.” In this time of media change, and after wandering through endless photos of death and destruction, that sentiment had never rung so true.
With what media has become today people are more easily able to find things that support their interests and beliefs. While that can be a good thing up to a point, it has likely contributed to this incredibly divisive situation that we have now. No longer are we all sitting down in front of a newspaper and seeing the top stories. Now we are picking and choosing what we want to learn more about which is constructing a public that is able to look the other way, or only see their way, when it comes to important issues.
But it wasn’t just me that left the Newseum affected. While having a background in journalism obviously allowed me to have an intense experience, Ben was also moved by the museum. He was really struck by the power of the press and how so many of the photographs told incredible stories, even without captions. He also talked about how important it is that “real news” is presented (I think he means world events and not the Kardashians) and how little we know about the world around us if those in power decide that we shouldn’t know it.
I have no idea if this museum will impact you like it did us. But I do know that I will continue to think about and reflect on what I experienced today in the days and weeks ahead. In our opinion, Newseum is a must-do on your next trip to D.C.