The week before last, Jim and I went to the Washington, D.C. area (specifically, Rockville, MD) to attend the Capclave SF convention. Capclave was a lot of fun (it's a really nice, low-key literary con), and we always go a couple of days early so we can go touristing in D.C.
This year turned out to have a distinctly journalistic bent -- part of which, quite frankly, we didn't expect. We had decided to go to the Newseum, a new private museum sponsored by the Freedom Forum that just opened recently. The museum turned out to be huge, modern, full of multimedia and interactive exhibits -- and was, ultimately, disappointing. Especially because the first exhibit, about Pulitzer Price-winning photography, was excellent, with a wall of photography and videos of the photographers talking about the circumstances in which the photo was taken.
But after that -- as Jim put it, it turned out to be the USA Today of museums. My biggest disappointment was looking for the exhibit on political cartoons, and finding it consisted of about 25 cartoons from the New Yorker on journalism (which wasn't quite what I had in mind). Another exhibit on the history of journalism turned out to be equally brief. Other exhibits, such as that on the First Amendment, had a bit more information, but were still more flash than substance, and more than a little self-congratulatory. (Quite frankly, if the worst the Newseum could find in journalism's history are the occasional headline flubs that are exhibited in the restrooms, it isn't doing its job.)
So our final reaction? A shrug.
But the next day, we went to the Folger Shakespeare Library to try out an exhibit called "Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper." It followed the creation of the idea and reality of newspapers, starting from 1620 and into the early 1700s and the beginnings of American journalism. It was fantastic -- we went through that exhibition slowly, case by case, reading news accounts of the Civil War (the British one, not the American one), satirical scribblings about court life, and early cartoon strips illustrating a murder, trial, and execution. The exhibit will be on until the end of January, 2009; if you're hanging around D.C. for any reason, I'd strongly recommend you drop by.