Last week my senior Capstone NewsVision class took a field trip to the Newseum in an effort to take a deep dive into the history of the industry but to also reinforce some of the topics we discuss in class with real life examples. Though this is not the first time I have been to the Newseum, I appreciated this visit before because I actually took the time to think and reflect in each exhibit. As a graduating senior, I tried to place myself in the shoes of each journalist in the exhibits and question what I would do in that given situation.
One of the exhibits I really enjoyed was the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, it was essentially a time capsule memorializing some of the greatest and darkest parts in our history. Each of the photos in this collection was the best of their respective years, really showing what was ‘news’ in that given year.
Mourning King is a photo taken by Moneta Sleet Jr. of Coretta Scott King and her daughter Bernice at the funeral of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is a famous photo that I have seen countless times in my life, and I’m sure we have a copy of in my home, but I never knew the story behind it. Reportedly, there were no Black photographers assigned to cover the funeral service, when Mrs. King found out she said there would be no photographers at all if Mr. Sleet was not included. I found that to be very telling, that for the funeral of a man who dedicated his life to uniting the races that no one saw fit for the press pool at his funeral be integrated. Especially since this story was just as important, if not more, to the Black community than the global community. Another photo that stood out to me was the Fire Escape Collapse by Stanley J. Forman, but for an entirely different reason. This photo was intended to capture the rescue of a woman and toddler from an apartment fire, instead captured the fire escape collapsing and them falling through the air. This photo sends chills down my spine because it captures the last seconds of a woman’s life but reading the photographer’s description of the event reminded me that it is not just a photo but also a man who witnessed a brutal death. That really caused me to take a step back and think of all the things that photographers see while covering stories and how some of the scenes they witness affect them.
Another exhibit that really stood out to me was the 9/11 memorial. As someone who was alive but not old enough to understand the significance of this event, I’ve spent a large portion of my education learning about this event and its impact. This was my first time really looking at this event from a journalist’s perspective, as well as hearing from my professor who was actually in the newsroom producing that day. 9/11 was a day when so many people in this country stood up and went above and beyond to answer the call for service. One of the stories from that day that stuck with me was that of Bill Biggart. Bill Biggart was a freelance photographer, located in New York City, who grabbed his camera and ran towards the Towers as they were falling. He took photographs the entire time, up until his death. This stood out to me because he was not assigned to this, but he felt so compelled to do what he loved, and that was telling stories and informing people through photos. To hear about his dedication to his craft from his wife and to watch the last two hours of his life, seeing what he saw, through his photos was pensive. Bill was the only journalist to die covering the 9/11 attacks.
Three kinds of people instinctively run toward danger―firefighters, police officers, and journalists.”
One particular exhibit that really impacted how I look at my career choice was the Journalists Memorial. This small but powerful exhibit lists the names and photos of every journalist and photographer who has lost their lives while covering a story. This impacted me so much because I was forced to step back and really think about all the people who have sacrificed and put themselves in harm’s way to ensure that people knew what was going on. This was one of the few times that I actually thought of the very real dangers that journalists face on a daily basis, but also took great pride in the bravery they show in the times of turmoil. Sometimes I think many people are fooled into thinking that journalism is all glitz, glam and stardom when it is really a dangerous profession where you do not know which story will be your last.
I also found the Global Press Freedoms exhibit to be very telling. In America, the field of journalism is protected under the First Amendment, that grants all citizens the freedoms of press and speech. This exhibit showed how unique that is and also the levels of press freedoms that are available to journalists in other countries. The main focal point was a color-coded world map that showed you the level of press freedom, green being completely free and red being no freedoms. Overwhelmingly the map was covered in large batches of red, with some yellow countries scattered throughout and green countries few and far between. This help me put in perspective how hard journalists in other countries must work to ensure that the people are being told the truth about what is happening around them. I think often times, in America we get bogged down with our own struggles of press freedoms in this country to realize the deadly fight that some of our colleagues around the world are putting up on a daily basis.
Overall the trip to the Newseum was insightful and reflective. I got the opportunity to read reflections and hear from those who wrote the first draft of history I learned growing up. I also learned the sacrifices that they made to do so, and the sacrifices journalists continue to make to this day. I am sad to know that the Newseum will be closing soon, I think it is so critical to have a place that champions the media and its work at a time where it is mocked and belittled.
“I am a journalist. I rather be a watchdog than a lapdog.”