“Let People Know the Facts, and the Country Will Be Safe” — Abraham Lincoln
By far one of the most interactive and content-packed museums this Our Kids review team has ever attended, the Newseum was simultaneously stimulating and exhausting, and definitely a worthwhile destination to spend a day (or three). Patrons with a strong background and interest in historic and current events will appreciate the museum the most, but younger patrons will also enjoy the interactive features of many of the exhibits, even if the content is over their heads.
That said, the Our Kids review team (two adults, five boys, three girls, ages 10 to 11) recommends this museum for children at a fifth grade level and older, but highly recommends this for high schoolers who have an interest in civics, history, media, journalism, and photography.
We spent a total of seven hours at the museum and barely scratched the surface. We could have spent hours just at the NBC News Interactive Newsroom (Level 2) where patrons of reading age read a news script from a teleprompter while they are being taped in front of a green screen. The children were thrilled to see their performances integrated into a faux newscast on overhead TVs, and parents were happy to pay only $5.00 for the link to the video and a picture of the starring moment.
The second highlight for this age group was the 4-D movie, I-Witness, playing in the Annenberg Theater (Level 1). In addition to having better visual effects than the 3-D movies common in today’s theaters, this theater is specifically set up with moving chairs and other “4-D” effects to enhance the moviegoers experience.
The movie highlights three dramatic events in journalism history, which none of the young members of the review team had heard of before (such as Nellie Bly’s investigative reporting of the New York mental health system) yet discussed enthusiastically over lunch. Parents should know that the 4-D effects are designed to surprise (such as the jarring chair movements) and the superior quality of the visual effects can make for an overwhelming experience for some sensory-sensitive children.
Surprisingly, the third exhibit that fascinated the elementary school-aged students was the HP New Media Room (tucked away on Level 4). The kids happily spent over an hour taking photos of themselves adding captions and watching as they were projected overhead throughout the room. They also played “Dunk the Anchor” and Wii-like games in which they used their body motions to choose between media trivia options. The adults in the group were forced to reckon with their advanced ages when presented with the modern tech speak not used prior to the 1990s such as “friending” “hashtags,” “phishing,” and “avatar.”
Some exhibits, although extremely well presented, fell flat with the younger members of the group. The children could not get through the 5th Floor News History gallery and adjacent theaters fast enough, even though it was fascinating to adults who had a historical perspective of both events and technology. The short movie presentations in the theaters covered ethics in media coverage, including events such as Deep Throat and Watergate. The video clips of the Colbert Report and Saturday Night Live news coverage provided comic relief. The Big Screen Theater was not engaging because each time we walked through it, it was showing clips regarding political campaigning instead of a more glitzy film that would have maximized the impact of the huge screen.
Parental Advisory: we had been forewarned that some exhibits would contain upsetting or graphic content given our group’s fifth grade level. Specifically, we were advised to use good judgment with regard to the 9/11 Gallery (Level 4) and the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery (Level 1) both of which contain stunning images, many of which were graphic in nature. That said, given the nature of the museum and the historic events it covers from various perspectives, it was difficult to avoid upsetting content (such as a bullet-ridden truck, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina video clips and famine photographs) presented in other exhibits.
Parent Tip: the museum has a recommended traffic pattern for its patrons (starting at the Concourse level to see exhibits and Orientation Theaters; take the impressive glass express elevator to Level 6 and view level by level back to the ground floor). Since we wanted to target certain exhibits and skip others, given age appropriateness, interest, and time constraints, we tried to follow our own strategy and quickly grew frustrated since the conventional elevators did not stop at all floors and were painfully slow, the stairwells did not open at certain floors and were marked emergency stairwells at some levels but not others, and there was no centralized staircase or escalator to go between all floors without walking through an entire exhibition level. Our advice is that if you are not going to follow the recommended traffic pattern, you should stop at the information desk first to find out the best way to get between the exhibits.
This is a fascinating museum for adults and older youth who have a strong interest in history, civics, journalism and media. The interactive exhibits are extremely well done and there is much to absorb. A one day visit will not suffice to take in all that the museum has to offer.
The Newseum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Admission prices are $21.95 plus tax for adults; $12.95 plus tax for youth (age 7 to 18) and children 6 and under are free. There are also Senior, Military, Student and family pack discounts available.
Photo by Sarah Weingast.