The place is a thousand miles away, so it's not likely many southern Minnesotans visited the museum frequently, or maybe had even heard of it.
Yet, the closing of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., this week is a blow at least symbolically to anyone who values information and the power it has — no matter your age, race, gender or political viewpoint.
Nothing made that more clear than walking into the building and seeing eight 12-foot segments of the Berlin Wall. On the one side, the side that faced Communist East Germany, the wall is drab, gray concrete; on the other side, the section facing democratic West Germany, the wall is full of colorful swirls of graffiti, artwork and messages.
It's a stunning visual example of free speech vs. no free speech and is the largest display of unaltered portions of the wall outside of Germany.
That's just one sampling of one exhibit. The museum is packed full, offering seven levels of exhibits with 15 galleries and 15 theaters. And there are no plans to move all of it to a new space to share with visitors why journalism is important in everyday lives.
The 9/11 Gallery displays the broadcast antennae from the top of the World Trade Center and a film featuring journalists who describe what it was like to cover the attack with gripping detail and personal reflection of trying to do their jobs as their hearts broke. And knowing the power of photojournalism, the museum exhibits every Pulitzer Prize–winning entry dating back to 1942. If you ever wanted to see both the best and worst of humanity, this exhibit does exactly that.
The Newseum didn't just focus on recorded history, but also explored trends, such as the exploding use of social media or the use of parody and satire to deliver information. And as newspapers around the world, including The Free Press, shared their front pages with the Newseum, visitors could see the pages lined up along the sidewalk outside the building as well as inside and available electronically. Comparing the evolving news pages from around the country and the world gives a sense of how we are so connected.
The museum hasn't been just a niche visit for journalists and journalism scholars. The plethora of history and important events captured by the media and displayed so well reminded everyone that the First Amendment is about all of us — that shaping our interpretation of the world comes from the information we get, or don't get.
The museum struggled financially in its nearly dozen years of existence, competing to draw visitors for $25 a person when nearby Smithsonian museums are free admission. In addition, many of the funding partners have disappeared as the number of journalists, organizations and supporting foundations has shrunk.
The hope is that the closure of a museum isn't a sign that people value freedom of speech any less; instead maybe we are so used to it that we take if for granted, like water, food, shelter. Even so, that doesn't make the free flow of information any less important, because it will always be a factor in sustaining democracy.