Eye on Image-Making: My Visit to the Newseum

Do you know what’s on the front page of this morning’s Iran Daily, published in Tehran? You will if you visit the Web site of the Newseum, an interactive museum based in Washington, D.C.

A link on the site called “Today’s Front Pages” lets you view the front pages of more than 700 newspapers from around the world. You can also sort the newspapers by region, download a PDF of any front page you choose, and link directly to the newspaper’s Web site.

“Today’s Front Pages” alone makes the Newseum a valuable resource for journalists, educators, and anyone else interested in the press. But there’s a lot more to the Newseum, and it is definitely worth a visit the next time you’re in Washington.

Preserving and Interpreting Journalism

Located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., just off the Mall, the Newseum is a modern, glass-fronted, seven-level building dedicated to preserving and interpreting more than 500 years of journalism — from the earliest European “newsbooks” to today’s state-of-the-art multimedia technology.

When you approach the Newseum, the first thing you notice is a 74-foot-high marble tablet engraved with the 45 words that comprise the First Amendment to the Constitution — words that enable what many consider the world’s freest press and one of its freest societies. Beneath the tablet, along Pennsylvania Avenue, is a sidewalk-level display of the day’s front pages of many newspapers from the U.S. and around the world.

Once inside the 250,000-square-foot building, you have your choice of 14 major galleries and 15 theaters to explore — so you obviously can’t see everything in one visit. Fortunately, the Newseum has prepared a brochure outlining a two-hour highlights tour, which you can pick up at the admission desk. At the desk, you can also learn about the current exhibits, which supplement the Newseum’s permanent exhibits.

Permanent Exhibits

While visiting the Newseum, you won’t miss a minute of breaking news, thanks to the giant “Electronic Window on the World” screen, which is suspended within a 90-foot-high atrium called the Great Hall of News, sponsored by the New York Times and its owners, the Ochs-Sulzberger family.

If journalism history is your thing, delve into the Newseum’s archives, which contain newspapers and magazines from the 19th and 20th centuries; newsbooks from 17th century Europe; and a 3,200-year-old clay brick from Sumer inscribed with cuneiform, one of the earliest known forms of writing.

Photojournalism is well represented in the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, which contains an extensive collection of prize-winning images and interviews with many of the photojournalists who made them.

Earth-shaking stories are the bread and butter of hard news. The Newseum has an actual section of the Berlin Wall, topped by a lookout tower known as Checkpoint Charlie. The 9/11 Gallery explores the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the hurdles journalists overcame to report the story.

The 9/11 Gallery also includes a tribute to Bill Biggart, a photojournalist who was killed while making images at the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The Interactive Newsroom lets you experience the challenges print and electronic journalists face as they grapple with getting the story, getting it right, and getting it out to the public on deadline.

Journalists sometimes get ensnared in a tangled web of ethics. Have you ever wondered how you would fare under pressure while toeing an ethical line? Find out at the Newseum’s Ethics Center, an interactive facility that presents actual situations faced by journalists — and then tells you how the journalists responded and what other visitors to the Newseum would have done in their shoes.

My Favorites

I have two favorite displays in the Newseum. The first is in the history section, where a display is devoted to journalists who besmirched the profession’s reputation and their own. Among those featured on this wall of shame are Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke, both up-and-coming newspaper reporters who fabricated stories. Cooke’s fake article, “Jimmy’s World,” about an 8-year-old heroin addict, won a Pulitzer for her paper, the Washington Post, which was then forced to return the prize.

This display is a reminder that newspapers are human endeavors and are thus fallible—and that the answer is better training for journalists and editors, more fact checking and heeding gut reactions (“If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t”), and increased responsibility and oversight by editorial staff and management.

My other favorite display is the First Amendment Gallery, which explains the “Five Freedoms” guaranteed by the Constitution — freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of petition. I confess to being something of a First Amendment junkie and nearly an absolutist when it comes to these freedoms.

I plan to write a future column about the First Amendment, so I won’t go into a lengthy discussion here. Suffice it to say that the five freedoms enumerated by a mere 45 words — that’s nine words per freedom, if you’re counting — written in 1791 have done more than perhaps anything else to shape the country in which we live.

Athlete: The Sports Illustrated Photography of Walter Iooss

When I visited the Newseum, one of the special exhibits on display was a collection of photographs by Walter Iooss, who has had a remarkable 50-year career providing memorable and eye-catching images for Sports Illustrated, including more than 300 covers.

The exhibit, which continues through Jan. 16, 2011, includes more than 40 Iooss photographs of such sports icons as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, and Tiger Woods. These photographs demonstrate Iooss’s dynamic composition and bold use of contrast — whether in color or in black and white.

If you visit the Newseum and this special exhibit, be sure also to check out Iooss’s personal diaries, collages, handwritten notes, and a video produced by the Newseum featuring Iooss discussing his work and how it evolved from his interaction with his subjects.

The Freedom Forum

The Newseum, which opened to the public on April 11, 2008, is funded and operated by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to promoting freedom of speech and of the press. The Freedom Forum also funds the First Amendment Center and the Diversity Institute.

Founded by Allen H. Neuharth — former chair and CEO of Gannett Co., and the man responsible for USA TODAY — the Freedom Forum was a successor to the Gannett Foundation but is not affiliated with Gannett Co. Two other organizations helped bring the Newseum into being—the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Annenberg Foundation.

I hope you get a chance to visit the Newseum the next time you are in Washington. If you have already been there, I’d love to hear your reaction to this unique facility.

One Response to “Eye on Image-Making: My Visit to the Newseum”

  1. David: I visited the Newseum at its former location. As a former broadcast journalist, I was thrilled and fascinated about this news museum. As an education consultant, who teaches "media literacy" I was happy to have found that the staff had created a curriculum for schools called "Is Seeing Believing?" which was based on a segment of a now defunct PBS series called "Media Matters," which dealt with the manipulation of images. Since I maintain a website for educators on media literacy, I created a page also called "Is Seeing Believing," because teachers today just aren't doing enough to include "visual literacy" in instruction. It can be found by going to http://www.frankwbaker.com/isb.htm
    PS I have been to the new facility and it's great too. I highly recommend it, especially to educators.

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