Saturday, January 21, 2012

Visit to the Newseum

As I write this title, I feel like a child in 4th grade/ standard, who has been told to write about her visit to the zoo! I am not in 4th grade, and I did not go to the zoo either, but I sure was as excited as a ten-year old to go to the Newseum. One – the Newseum, as the name suggests, is a museum for news (read as media). That being my former profession, it definitely interested me. Two – there are some great exhibits there, which I will talk about in this post. Three – I had awesome company in A 
I had already been to the Newseum in September with my friends, N and H from Columbus, Ohio. They too, live in the greater DC area. I will start with two of my favorite exhibits over there. One was that of Pulitzer prize winning photographs. There were breathtaking photographs, most of which made you think for a few minutes before you moved to the next. There was a beautiful picture of a family being reunited after the Second World War. The expressions are that of relief, joy and so much more. There were pictures of the fire that took place in Chicago so many years back, and all the destruction that took place. There was one picture, where only a woman’s hand was shown. Her fore arm was infected, and she was shown holding a household blade. It was a picture depicting female circumcision in Kenya. It is alarming that that despite awareness being raised about it, that painful tradition still is a part of some African countries.

A gripping picture was that of a famine in Africa, taken in the early 1990s. There was a small child (less than two years), clearly malnourished, in a very dry place. And behind her was a vulture, waiting to make the child its meal. The photographer managed to get rid of the vulture, and made the girl safe temporarily. He received a lot of negative comments when the picture was released, as to why he never saved the girl. And he was noted telling a friend that he had felt very bad about not helping the girl. After a few months, he committed suicide. There was a 10-15 minute video presentation that kept running, where Pulitzer prize winning photographers talked about their tasks. There were some that stuck with me. One said that you don’t do your job thinking that today I am going to click a Pulitzer Prize winner. It just happens. You can’t plan for it. Another lady said that she had seen so much pain and suffering in adults and in a lot of children, that in order to deal with it, she took pictures of people helping other people. And how she could show compassion through her photographs.
This was one of the sections that I really liked. The other was a sub-section of a bigger section. The bigger section was that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It had various exhibits within it, giving a good historical aspect also. One of my favorites was that of Sept 11, 2001. It had collections ranging from the plane’s parts to what was found in it, to confiscated passports of the terrorists in the planes. One of the most striking things there was the original letter that was given to each of the terrorists, which they were to read the night before Sept 11. It was not written in English, but a translated sheet was kept next to it. The letter stated the justification given to them, as to why they were doing this, and the supposed thing that it was the right thing to do. When I read the letter the first time, I re-read it. And yet I took time to digest it. When I went with A this time round, I told him to read it. He too was in disbelief.
Moving on from this emotionally-charged exhibit to a lighter one, there was a temporary/ traveling exhibit on sports photography. Several photographs were from the magazine, Sports Illustrated by Nick Leifer. There were pictures that showed the intensity of former tennis players, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. The photographer mentioned that Mohammed Ali was a delight to photograph, and had a wonderful personality.
One of the other really nice permanent exhibits is the evolution of media from radio to television to the Internet. It was historically rich, and wonderfully captured key moments in history and how media was used to broadcast that news. For instance, they showed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and how people got information at every step of the way. The other one, where millions of viewers turned on their TV sets was the wedding of the beautiful Lady Diana and Prince Charles. I wish that along with the wedding of lady Di, they kept a big poster of the big 2011 wedding of Prince William and Katherine.

That would have plastered a smile on my face for the rest of the day. The historical perspective continued with key political moves, natural disasters and other important events. A small room was also dedicated to social media, and how it was used in the revolution in Egypt. A humorous angle to social media was how Twitter would have been used if it was around during the time of the Civil war. It was quite funny to read that. The other humorous part in the Newseum was continuous clips being shown about late night TV shows. This included shows of Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live and others. They have played a key role in media and portraying the truth behind key developments in a humorous and satirical manner. A and I, along with other visitors had a nice time laughing at these clips, especially after watching some intense displays.
On the same floor as the late night shows and development of media, was one more intense display. It was that of September 11, 2001. This was different from the one of the FBI. This gave the journalists' perspective. The center piece was the destroyed top of one of the towers of the World Trade Center buildings. On one of the walls were front pages of national and international newspapers on the day after this horrific incident. I was at the Newseum the first time on September 10, 2011. Several people choked up and some were crying as they went through this exhibit. A video clip that was being played showed raw footage, interviews with people who saw it up and close and the destruction that took place.

On the other side of the center piece were remains of the only journalist, a photo journalist, who died while covering what was happening on that sunny morning in September. His was a moving story of how he and his wife were walking their dogs when they heard about it. He rushed home to get his cameras, and never came back. They retrieved his cameras, which revealed some of his best shots. But he didn't live to see them. It was touching to see his glasses, phone and other personal belongings on display.
Journalists that made an impact
There was one exhibit on Katrina that was there when I went in September. Without going in the details, there was a clip of Anderson Cooper of CNN where he was livid about politicians making tall claims and doing nothing while people died and suffered in the aftermath of the disaster. And there was another clip of Brian Williams of CNBC being angry about the same thing. I had this thought then that it would be terrific if both these men featured in the same show. They would make a great team. Here is a collection of headlines after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.

The other one was the exhibit on Tim Russert. He was the long time face of the show 'Meet the Press'. The exhibit was that of his office when he died a few years back. He was a journalist who made an impact not just on the viewers, but even the people he interviewed. He was known for having a wealth of knowledge and who read and pored over newspapers from all over the country. He was a dedicated family man. Even after all the years of hosting the show, after a particularly important show, he would go to his office and call his father and ask how he liked the show and what his opinion was. There were imminent people in Indian media who remain very memorable, and we still talk about them.
I try to generally end on a happy note. There were a series of photographs in one of the hallways of the White House Presidential dogs. These pictures are kept to engage younger museum visitors. The Kennedys had nine dogs when they were in the White House, while one of the presidents chose to have a goat instead of a dog. And there was one who had held his dog by the ears. He received a lot of negative reactions because of the way he treated his dog.
I hope that if you are in DC, and if you have not been to Newseum, you get a chance to visit it. And if you get lucky, you may get to go free (yes, my sister N gave me a link where free tickets were being given by Newseum) or go at half price (shout out to Groupon)!

P.S. - As I browse through pictures - I am going to post a few pictures on this post, and have a new post with just the Newseum photographs

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