By Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim Media Writer
Located in the heart of America’s capital on Pennsylvania Ave, the Newseum’s mission resides on one integral aspect of the Constitution: the right to freedom of speech.
“The Newseum is the preeminent national organization that promotes, explains, and defends the five freedoms of the First Amendment and the right of free expression,” said Jeffrey Herbst, President and Chief Executive Officer of the museum.
“There is really no other institution that is devoted to the five freedoms of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly that are the foundations of our democracy.”
Newseum not only examines how freedom of speech has impacted generations but also provides visitors with an extensive history of events that shaped the world.
“We’re very interested in how storytelling evolves over time, from traditional print media to radio, television and the Internet,” explained Herbst.
“Unlike many cultural institutions that only look backwards, we think that history is very important, but we use it to inform people about current and future controversies.”
The museum consists of 15 interactive exhibits, the majority of which are permanent to the Newseum. Some of the perpetually running galleries include a collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, the communications tower from the World Trade Center, and the largest portion of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. Additionally, the Newseum features temporary exhibits that center on current events. A recent gallery called “Louder Than Words” is in partnership with the Cleveland Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and explores the intertwined relationship between free expression and popular music.
“Visitors like these exhibits because they tell us stories that are quite dramatic,” said Herbst.
The unique nature of Newseum also relies on the technology infused within its exhibits. The museum recently incorporated elements of virtual reality, allowing visitors to feel transported to certain events and places throughout time. Furthermore, Newseum recently implemented Museum Ed, a digital outreach program that provides information on current issues to 8 million children worldwide. Teachers are able to register online for the course and receive free materials for their classrooms which include information on how to teach various topics, such as fake news and religious diversity.
“What we find is that teachers are really eager to receive this material,” explained Herbst.
“We do substantial outreach to address controversies in our society.”
Through engaging nearly 200,000 students and thousands more visitors per year, Newseum attempts to appeal to as many individuals as possible through diversifying the footage and exhibits offered. As a result of the current political environment, Herbst said the museum will continue to cover all issues pertaining to free speech.
“We want to engage a large number of Americans. We are a nonpartisan institution because we feel we can only advocate for the rights of all Americans.”
“More than anything, the current political climate has made us that much more careful as we present exhibits that can speak to a broad array of Americans as possible.”
Herbst, whose previous work as a professor concentrated on issues of democracy, politics, and freedom, joined the Newseum to further the synthesis between education and the nonprofit sector. His involvement in the organization has spanned the rapid changes of society.
“We’re very concerned about the freedom of the press, but the press has changed considerably in the last 10 years as social media becomes more and more important,” he explained.
“We’re trying to understand the rate of technological change and how it affects traditional industries in the future. It’s a challenge, but it’s also tremendously exciting.”
In addition to unveiling a Stonewall Uprisings exhibition in 2019 to commemorate the event’s 50th anniversary, the museum is also planning to reach more children through its digital outreach program.
Although technology will continue to change, the Newseum remains dedicated to providing all Americans with the ability and freedom to express themselves.