Monday, April 7, 2008

Newseum: Noble, Costly Addition to DC's Museum Scene

Saturday we took in DC's newest major museum, the Newseum. Six years after the closing of the Arlington site, the (almost) half-a-billion dollar building is finally finished. It will open to the public on April 11, after more than six months of delays. The Freedom Forum, First Amendment Center and Newseum moved from Arlington to DC and from a cookie cutter Rosslyn high rise to one of the most coveted spots on Pennsylvania Avenue, less than five blocks from the Capitol Building.

The sight lines from the outside terraces were unmatched and each of the six floors of exhibits was naturally lit from the sunlight of a beautiful Saturday. There was just too much to take in! We were there for 3 and 1/2 hours and had to skip some major exhibits and most of the short films. Some highlights were the poignant 9/11 gallery, the fun interactive newsroom (choose which photos get printed as an editor), today's front pages gallery, and the overwhelming news history gallery.

As the Washington Post noted in a recent article, the Newseum, to some degree, is part American history museum presented through the eyes of the journalism and news world. Since so much of what we consider historical fact is influenced by news reporters of the day, the explanation and presentation of their story is essential. To my delight the Newseum dealt with the importance of all parts of the First Amendment in a gallery on the fourth floor. Can you name the five freedoms proclaimed by the First Amendment to the Constitution? More Americans could correctly identify the five members of the Simpson family, according to the exhibit. Of course they are freedoms of speech, religion, the press, petition and assembly. Unfortunately even this gallery is named after its sponsor, Cox Enterprises. Many of the galleries and floor spaces have had their naming rights sold to various media entities, like Time Warner, NBC, and News Corp.

I'm not sure I'd pay for a daily admission to get into the Newseum. At $20.00 (plus $2.00 additional fee for internet purchases), a date out with a friend would cost $44.00. That's before dining in the Wolfgang Puck inspired cafeteria downstairs, or his full fledged restaurant, The Source, where lunch entrées hover around $20.00. For First Amendment enthusiasts, myself included, a museum membership may be in order. They cost $75.00 and include unlimited admissions for one calendar year among other perks. If you are weary of spending $20.00 for a one day visit, go on opening day April 11. Admission is free. Go early.

The Newseum is not on the 42 bus line. Get off at 9th and G Streets NW, walk 4 blocks south to Penn Ave, then 3 blocks east to 6th street. Otherwise take Metro to Archives station. Here are some more photos of Saturday's big day.