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This post is a review of the Newseum in Washington DC with tips on planning your visit and video previews of what you will see. With so many high quality yet free museums in the city, it’s easy to overlook those that charge a fee. However, guests should keep an open-mind to exploring some of Washington, DC’s ticketed museums, particularly the Newseum.
After 11 years and nearly 10 million visitors, the Newseum closed to the public on Dec. 31, 2019.
The Newseum was an interactive news and media museum. It chronicles the history of journalism, explores how new forms of media (such as social media) have changed how the public understands and spreads news, and offers a great exhibit on photojournalism, which features a room full of Pulitzer Prize winning photos. There are many fun and interactive exhibits for kids of all ages to enjoy. Finally, there are also a number of permanent and temporary exhibits that focuses on the news coverage of specific moments in history.
Part of the experience of visiting the Newseum is the building itself. Its unique glass architecture is actually suspended from the top floor – all those “support” columns you see are actually just hiding cords and wires. On the Pennsylvania Ave NW side of the building at the main entrance, you’ll see the First Amendment printed along the side of the building and the rest is glass. This means as you venture through the museum, you’ll be welcomed by some beautiful views down America’s main street.
The building also has one of the world’s largest glass elevators. The best way to experience the museum is to take advantage of this. While there is no correct order to visit the Newseum, a suggested route based on previous guests reviews – as the glass elevator only runs from the Basement level to the top floor (Level 6).
Front Pages — (outside the main entrance) Each morning, before many of us are awake, more or less outside the museum, the newspapers along Pennsylvania Ave NW are updated. A front page from a local newspaper in each state and some major international papers shows you what is important enough to be front page news around the world. Sometimes when the story is important enough, you can see over 60 takes on the same story, and others you can see what is big news in Alaska is not covered in Vermont at all.
I-Witness: A 4-D Time Travel Adventure. — (Basement Level) An excellent way to begin your visit to the Newseum, the 4-D Time Travel Adventure film chronicles the progress of journalism in 15 minutes. It tells many of the smaller, sometimes forgotten stories along the way. In addition, you can expect the room to fill with bubbles, your chair to shake, and perhaps to even feel as if something’s reached out for your leg! This is particularly fun for kids, and a great way for them to get context before exploring the rest of the museum. It can be found on the bottom floor of the museum, and usually runs every 30 minutes.
The Berlin Wall Gallery. — (Basement Level) The Newseum is home to the largest section of the Berlin Wall anywhere outside of Germany. There are 8 sections of the Wall, each 12 feet high. With colorful graffiti on the western side, and white washed on the eastern side, it is a stark reminder of a city, and a world divided between the east and west. As well as the wall, there is a guard tower which used to stand near Checkpoint Charlie, where guards had the orders to shoot to kill. Especially important in today’s world, are these physical reminders of limitations on free speech.
Inside Today’s FBI. — (Basement Level) This is one of the Newseum’s most popular exhibitions, exploring the FBI. It looks at some of the most shocking cases in recent history, and how their techniques have evolved as technology and crime changed. Furthermore, there are objects seized by the FBI like machine guns and bomb parts, and discusses terrorist plots like the Boston Marathon Bombing and the Unabomber. A really interesting look at how the FBI fights crime and the role the media plays in portraying these events.
Pulitzer Prize Photographs. — (Level 1) Showcasing every Pulitzer Prize-winning entry dating back to 1942, this exhibit is a highlight of the Newseum. It has the range of human experience from all over the world, from war and hunger to dancing and celebration. Some of the most famous images include the flag-raising over Iwo Jima, Babe Ruth bows out, and the Vulture and the Baby. Also there is a video of interviews with some of the photojournalists whose work is featured, which truly shows how much our memories and our history is shaped by photographs and journalism. Please note that this exhibit has graphic images and stories and may be too intense, especially to younger visitors.
Journalist Memorial — (Level 3) You’ll see a two story glass structure bearing the names of those in media who have lost their lives in the line of duty – reporters, photographers, editors, and broadcasters. Remembered here are over 2,200 journalists. The names are updated each here to remember those lost.
New Media Gallery — (Level 4) Part of the fun of the Newseum, especially for kids, are the interactive exhibits. The New Media Gallery features videos and interactive galleries where you can discover about the evolution of media around the world. Here you can create your own front page, including your name or photo in the byline to be seen on other platforms across the museum. You can scroll through updates on breaking news and see how social media has played a role in some of the biggest stories of the past decade.
9/11 Gallery. — (Level 4) This moving exhibit shows the events of September 11, 2001 that shook and forever changed this country. It includes eye-witness accounts, moving films, stories from journalists, and objects from Ground Zero. One of the most visceral pieces in the entire museum is the twisted metal remains of a 360 foot antenna, which used to sit atop the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Many guests noted that this is the best part of the museum, and worth the visit alone. The exhibit will bring the events of that day back for those who remember, and bring home the importance of it for those who don’t. Please note that this exhibit has graphic images and stories and may be too intense, especially to younger visitors.
Historic Front Pages Collection — (Level 5) The News Corporation News History Gallery is the largest exhibit on the Newseum. It displays over 300 historic front pages covering wars, assassinations, elections, and other major world events. The center of the room features these front pages in drawers that you can pull out to read and the outer edges of the exhibit display artifacts from war reporting, women in the media and more. The room is dark to preserve the historic newspapers but staff are on hand if you need any help.
“PICTURES OF THE YEAR: 75 YEARS OF THE WORLD’S BEST PHOTOGRAPHY”
On display through January 2019
Celebrating the renonwed photojournalism competition, Picture of the Year International, in is 75th year, this newest exhibit opening April 2018 displays some of the best of the best. Ranging from WWII to present day, you’ll see images tracing the evolution of photo journalism worldwide.
Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, and Politics. — A special look at the intersection of culture, politics, and the news, this temporary exhibition was created in concert with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Music has often pushed the boundaries of social norms, calling for peace during the Vietnam War, gender equality, Civil Rights. The exhibit is complete with multimedia experiences, and objects such as Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock Stratocaster, President Bill Clinton’s saxophone, and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” jewelry. This exhibition will be open until July 31, 2017.
Anchorman. — One of the most popular exhibits ever in the Newseum, based around the hit 2004 film Anchorman a comedy about a news team in the 1970’s. It included props, behind-the-scenes looks, and an interactive news desk. While many exhibits in the Newseum can be on the heavy side, this one provided comic relief.
1966: Civil Rights at 50.— This exhibit chronicles the tumultuous events of the Civil Rights movement in 1966. From the origins of the Black Power movement, to more drives for voter registration, to riots in major cities, it was a pivotal year. In addition this exhibit looks at how the media shaped the movement and people’s perception of it.
Other Things to See at the Newseum.
Shopping. — The Newseum gift shops are some of the best in all of Washington D.C. Inside, you’ll find unique items inspired by the exhibits and American history. If you’d like to peruse the selection, they have some online.
The Observation Deck. — If you want some fresh air, be sure to see the 6th floor observation deck. Since the museum is on Pennsylvania Ave, it has amazing views of the Capitol and the Mall. Many reviews note that this is a great place for pictures, especially with you and the US Capitol building in the background! Keep in mind that accompanied children are not allowed on the observation desk.
Reviews of the Newseum
The Newseum is consistently ranked in the top 10 things to do in Washington D.C. by reviewers. It is listed in the list of Top 25 Museums in the United States. People often are surprised by the breadth of topics covered by the displays, and the quality of the displays.
The most common criticism is the price tag of the ticket, particularly in a city full of free museums – but this isn’t your typical museum. It is full of interactive exhibits and tickets are good for two days. Most people feel it was well worth the ticket price once they’ve visited the museum.
Many of the negative reviews appear to be from those who are against the topic of the museum – dedication to journalism, rather than the quality of the museum itself.
Another thing that is often noted is how several exhibitions are too intense for children under 10. Some of the exhibits discuss heavy topics on world history – such as the 9/11 Gallery and some of the photographs in the Pulitzer Prize Gallery.
Negative reviews are in the minority and most guests rave about the museum, many of them saying it is great for kids. The Newseum is one of the most recommended museums in DC by locals and hotel concierges.