If you’ve been to Washington, D.C., you’ve likely also been to the Smithsonian museums. These museums showcase the colorful history of our country and our world. From science and ancient animals to the military and great works of art, the Smithsonian museums are a way society preserves American values and identity.
However, there was another museum in the D.C. area that might have piqued your interest — The Newseum. Until just recently, Dec. 31, 2019, to be exact, the Newseum had its doors open. Positioned on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Whitehouse and the Capitol building, it was one of my favorite places in the world.
The Newseum was more than just a museum, it was the starting place of my career in journalism. It had three floors of exhibits and galleries chronicling the timeline of news media in America.
I first visited the Newseum as a senior in high school. At the time, I knew I wanted to be a journalist, but understood almost nothing about the field itself. When I walked into the Newseum, I felt I had found my place in the world. Maybe it’s a sappy sentiment, but its honest.
The Newseum had some of the most impressive and impactful exhibits I’ve encountered in my life so far. I could spend hours at a single exhibit that had rows of framed front pages from the last century. I saw some of the darkest and most haunting events humans are capable of in the Pulitzer prize photo gallery, but I also saw the pure, unaltered expression of joy and triumph there as well.
Eventually, I found myself face to face with several panels of the Berlin Wall. Mere feet away from me was living history — a sobering testament of time. While I stood awe struck by the display, I thought to myself “How did I end up here?” What reason did a high schooler have to be in the presence of history?
I encountered this feeling again and again as we toured the Newseum. While taking in the 9/11 memorial — which included hundreds of front pages from the day after and a large portion of the antenna that had been on the North Tower — while looking at the handcuffs of the Boston Bomber, as I stood in front of the cabin the infamous Unabomber lived in and as I stared at the journalist memorial wall, the feeling persisted.
Clearly, I remember looking at the walls covered in the faces of journalists who had been killed and thinking “Why?” It was an honest but naïve question. I had never considered the job particularly dangerous and wondered why someone would go to the lengths of killing a reporter.
The Newseum will remain an integral part of my growth and education as a journalist. I gained purpose in my career path from my visits to the Newseum. There are hours of classroom lessons that can be absorbed from the Newseum, but by no means is it a replacement for my degree.
The news media is incredibly imperfect, however, what the Newseum always reminded me is that the news is necessary. It is one of the most powerful methods of giving a voice to those who do not have one or are unheard. The Newseum also reminded me to not get complacent, and not to get too comfortable and content with life. It has always been a powerful reminder to rebel (when needed).
The Newseum is set to reopen in future years; however, it will be smaller. I was incredibly sad when I heard of its closing and future shrinking. To me, the Newseum is a haven for the empowerment of voices. I hope that someday the funding will come through to bring back the Newseum to its former size because without it, we might forget our roots.
While the physical building is closed, I encourage everyone to visit the Newseum website, https://www.newseum.org. There is a handful of displays available on online and a new resource, NewseumED which is a collection of information about the First Amendment and media literacy. Even if you google ‘Newseum Displays’ you can find articles that go more in-depth ab0ut some of the displays. The history of news and journalism is not just a timeline of the industry but a necessary tool for journalists, reporters and the people.