While a painful reminder of the 2000 presidential election for many, the late Tim Russert’s whiteboard with the prescient words “Florida! Florida! Florida!” could be one of the greatest American museum pieces ever. The fact that it’s a piece of media (and primitive one at that) gives some credence to how great media can be when you have the right people with the right foresight and integrity. Tim Russert was one of the rare ones to have every bit of that, which is why the impact was so strong when he died on June 13. It’s probably fortunate then that he was a trustee for an incredible museum in Washington, D.C. called the Newseum where his own history-making whiteboard will be on display forever.
This museum may also help secure a link between the media and the public that’ll be sorely needed in the future as media becomes more politically one-sided. They’ll need the public looking upon them more favorably as the truly integral media elite start to retire or pass away.
When the Newseum first opened in 1997, its Virginia location was much more modest and even had free admission. It nevertheless had a huge collection of media artifacts and educational exhibits that helped the public get a better understanding of how the media has always worked and the credos they live by. Consider this museum to also be the architectural bastion of the First Amendment if not the ultimate perspective on this country. In fact, when the museum moved to a newly-designed and larger building on D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue in 2002, the first lines of the First Amendment were placed on a giant stone panel near the main entrance. As complex as the First Amendment is, the Newseum at least tries to break down the equally complex world of how we view media.
All it took was the endorsement of Tim Russert when the new D.C. location of the Newseum opened to give it the credibility that it needed despite some vitriol from critics who thought the architectural design of the building was horrid as well as the idea of the whole thing at taxpayer’s expense. If Russert liked it, though, it was going to be a-ok for millions of taxpaying Americans. As proof, the museum already had millions of visitors who had gone through its doors in its first five years. Numbers in those ranks prove that people still care about media and want to have some kind of off-handed relationship with it to help understand the world.
Just what does it offer then to help people get a better grasp of what the media has done and where they’re going? The artifacts in the museum are nothing short of awe-inspiring and can easily be compared to the Smithsonian Institute if not even better. Many sections and floors preserve newspaper and other media headlines of every major news story in America’s history. You’ll even find rare, first-edition books and a huge gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs chronicling images that are etched in all of our minds whether we were alive when they occurred or not.
And, of course, you’d expect some interactive exhibits. One of the best is the NBC News Interactive Newsroom where you can play the role of a reporter and shape a news story within a tight deadline. This is really meant for kids so they can get a better understanding of how a newscast is put together rather than thinking that the news just has someone sitting down and reading off a teleprompter each night. At least they don’t show how stories are generated for rags, which might have been an interesting interactive exhibit on its own as a lightweight exhibit using creative tools that the networks wouldn’t even consider or would get arrested possessing.
You’ll even find pieces of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum to remind people of freedom and how we should never take it for granted. Wisely, people are kept a slight distance from the pieces of the wall so they also won’t use their freedom to sue for getting hurt by a toppling piece of old Germany.
One of the best visual exhibits here is the state-of-the-art theaters that show immersive movies showing you the U.S.’s most important news stories during the age of film. In the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater (among half-dozen other theaters), you can experience “I-Witness: A 4-D Time Travel Adventure”, a movie that uses a wraparound screen that can immerse you in famous media stories starting with Edward R. Murrow’s reports from WWII all the way up to the most recent news events. You’ll find many who find this to be the ultimate in putting America’s news history in compelling perspective. Every young person who hasn’t appreciated history yet should see this to put their country in a deep perspective.
Then there’s the final highlight of the Newseum that might just make this museum seem to be the most important place in the entire country…
A room with a view…of the White House…
The Hank Greenspun Terrace may be one of the greatest architectural designs in D.C.’s history. When you step outside onto the terrace, you get a panoramic view of not only the White House (right across the street) but also all of the historical streets in the area. If this doesn’t make you feel that you’re at the center of one of the most important places in the world, nothing will.
Yes, any other museum would just provide a virtual reality White House on a backdrop. Some people probably have to pinch themselves that they’re right in the heart of D.C. and can see the whole city from a central perspective.
It’s no wonder that Tim Russert said during the 2002 opening of the D.C. Newseum that it would leave an indelible mark in how people view media. The media needs this relationship with the people, because the true greats of journalism are leaving us now and the media is getting increasingly more biased and gathering stories with less ethical standards as a guidepost.
That means many media heads should do themselves a favor and go through the exhibit themselves to remind them that if they don’t keep to certain principles and respect the public, there won’t be much new going into the museum in the next fifty years.