The Newseum is an interactive museum of news and journalism in Washington, D.C. The museum is seven levels and contains 15 theaters and 14 galleries. The Newseum’s mission is “to help the public and the news media understand one another better” and to “raise public awareness of the important role of a free press in a democratic society.” In its first five years, the newseum attracted more than 2.25 million visitors. The operations are funded by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to “free press, free speech, and free spirit for all people.”
Journalism is often nicknamed the first draft of history. The Newseum explores the history of journalism and taps into modern conversations about news coverage and the First Amendment. In 1997, the Newseum opened in Arlington, Virginia, with exhibition galleries in Nashville and Manhattan. In 2000, Freedom Forum decided to move the Newseum to Washington, D.C., to accommodate more exhibitions and situate itself among the great museums of the National Mall.
The current museum opened on April 11, 2008. While building the new
Newseum, the design team had a few goals. One goal was to design a building that
would be an architectural icon, easily recognized, and remembered by all
visitors. Another goal was to create a museum space three times as large as the
original, with the capacity for more than two million visitors a year. The last
goal was to celebrate the First Amendment of the Constitution, its freedom of
the press and free speech protections.
The Newseum features the 45 words of the First Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution etched into a four story tall stone panel:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Newseum has many different exhibits, many of which integrate impressive technology. One exhibit is the NBC News Interactive Newsroom: Sitting in the Hot Seat. This interactive room lets visitors play the role of a photojournalist, editor, reporter, or anchor. Another exhibit is the Time Warner World News Gallery. It features a large map, rating 190 countries and illustrates the differences in press freedom around the world. Another exhibit is the 9/11 Gallery Sponsored by Comcast. This gallery explores the coverage of September 11, 2001, and also has a tribute to photojournalist William Biggart, who died covering the attacks. One more exhibit is the Bancroft Family Ethics Center. In this exhibit, computers allow you to debate journalistic dilemmas and compare your answers with reporters and other visitors.
The Newseum features a Journalists Memorial, a glass sculpture that lists the
names of 1,900 journalists from around the world killed in the line of duty. It
is update and rededicated each year. The museum’s website is updated daily with
images of newspaper front pages from all over the world. The images are
replaced each day, but an archive of front pages from notable events since 2001
is also available. Hard copies of the front pages are also featured in a
gallery in the museum.
Much like the First Amendment, debates have surrounded the Newseum and its future. The initial building cost of $450 million, high operating expenses, insufficient visitor numbers, and high salaries of Freedom Forum executives have led to financial woes, as well as criticism. Some have wondered whether investing in a museum, rather than a news outlet, for example, was the best move in a time when technology is revolutionizing traditional journalism. Others, however, argue that such challenges give more meaning to the museum's mission. The Newseum has introduced programs to teach media literacy and civics in schools and online. Additionally, the museum provides spaces for visitors to give their perspectives on current events. The Newseum's next chapter will be written by its visitor numbers, financial stability, and, like the modern field of journalism, its ability to adjust to new challenges.