Washington DC’s Newseum: Media as Historical Narrative

The view from the top of the Newseum is an attraction in and of itself--but check out the rest. It's even better!

Whenever I tell someone that I really loved DC’s Newseum, they inevitably reply with ‘which museum’.  And then I clarify–‘no, the Newseum’.  It often continues on in this very who’s-on-first fashion for a while until I spell it out–N.e.w.s.e.u.m.

The next question-slash-statement always follows–‘wait, you enjoyed a museum about the news?  You really must be a nerd!’  Yes.  Yes I did.  And, in my honest opinion, so would most people.  Because the Newseum isn’t a museum of news–it’s a museum of culture, civilization, and history as viewed through the lens of the media.  It’s possibly the most educational and entertaining day I’ve ever spent; if you’ve been reading The Suitcase Scholar for any amount of time, you’ll know what an impressive statement this is.

Let’s get over the painful part first–the Newseum is one of the few Washington DC attractions that charges admission.  And before you say something like ‘well I bet you didn’t have to pay for it, blogger girl’, let me say that not only did I pay full price–$21.95 plus tax–but I paid full price for my husband as well (which I typically try to avoid by, well, traveling without him).  And it was more than worth the cost of admission.

We began our visit with the orientation video which, to be honest, is the singular thing I’d skip in the entire building.  It just wasn’t that informative, but that’s ok because it was also really short.  But you should begin your tour on the bottom floor anyway and check out the first exhibit–the Berlin wall.  Just being able to see the difference in the two sides–amazing, angry grafitti on the west-facing side and nothing–absolutely nothing–on the east-facing side.  Behold the differences between a free and an oppressed society.  Displays around the perimeter of the exhibit explained the roll the media played in the entire political situation; how the media did not only cover the events but also helped create them.  This is a theme that will reoccur throughout all of the exhibits at the Newseum.

The ground floor also currently houses an exhibit on the FBI, starting with displays about gangsters and going through the events of 911.  I learned all about the unabomber (about whom I originally knew embarrassingly little) and stared in wonder at the actual shoes that cause me to have to take off my own boots every time I board a plane.

Once you’ve finished on the ground floor, the museum guide suggests you take the glass elevator to the top floor and work your way back down.  But make sure you pause for a moment on the sixth floor, as its sprawling patio provides amazing views down Constitution Avenue towards the Capitol.

My favorite exhibit in the entire facility had to be the room with the newspaper timeline–The Story of News.  I promise, this is much more interesting than it sounds, and I definitely spent more than an hour in this exhibit alone–I had to make myself leave to have lunch because at this point I was starving.  The Story of News contained old newspapers sporting famous headlines through the ages, beginning in the mid-15th century.  From Washington crossing the Delaware to the death of Elvis, there are more important ‘current’ events displayed here than I can even begin to describe.  You’ll just have to go and check them out yourself.

It should be noted that while every exhibit is more than worth your precious DC tourism time, some are hard to look at.  I found the Pulitzer prize winning photographs display to be a bit much–I cried (a lot) and I didn’t even enter the 911 exhibit, though I did see tissue boxes built into some of the displays.

I did not plan to spend the whole day in the Newseum, but that’s exactly what I ended up doing–with a maybe 90-minute break for lunch at a microbrewery up the street.  It was truly one of the most well-done, informative-yet-interesting museums I’ve ever visited.  Sure–it doesn’t have the grandeur of The British Museum or the big-ticket attractions like the Louvre–or dinosaur bones like the Smithsonian across the street–but it tells the story of the world in the words of the people who, well, wrote that story.

The Newseum is located at the intersection of Constitution Ave and 6th Street NW, just behind the National Gallery West Building.  Admission is $21.95 for adults but only $12.95 for kids and teens under 18–which is a great discount, in my opinion.  Had I a family of four–which sadly I do not–I’d gladly pay for all of us to spend at day here.  It’s that great.






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