The Dignity of Journalism

newseumI grew up in an age when journalists were respected and the leaders of the profession were almost “god-like”. In Walter Cronkite’s case, he earned that status. (Where Have You Gone, Walter Kronkite?)

I was reminded of the dignity and importance of journalism last week when I visited The Newseum in Washington, DC with my buddy Dave Griffith, a local business leader in the Philadelphia area, and incoming Executive Director of the Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia. This was Dave’s first trip to the Newseum, but it was my fourth. If I lived in the DC area I suspect I would visit many times each year. Obviously I love the place. There’s a reason—it reminds me of the era of journalism I was in awe of. Alas it is an era which has gone and the dignity of the profession has been eroded.

For those unaware the Newseum in DC opened in April 2008, replacing a smaller version which had been located in Arlington, VA until 2002. In their own words, here’s how the Newseum is described:

The Newseum — a 250,000-square-foot museum of news and history — offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits. Within its seven levels of galleries and theaters, the Newseum offers a unique environment that takes museum-goers behind the scenes to experience how and why news is made. The Newseum ranks as one of the top attractions in Washington, D.C., and more than 3 million people have visited since it opened in 2008.

In my words, it is an incredibly powerful and fascinating travel through history brought to you via media of all kind—print, radio, TV, and digital. It allows visitors to relive or learn powerful world events of all kind including President Kennedy’s assassination (the major current exhibit), 9/11,  the Berlin Wall, Vietnam, Watergate, and much, much more. Obviously the Boston Marathon bombings are now the latest “event” to be captured in news coverage.

Visiting the Newseum is not a boring history lesson. In fact, it is riveting, fascinating way to learn/relearn Modern era history. The Newseum brings history to life through the journalism of that era.

There is so much to view at the Newseum but one don’t miss exhibit is “JFK”, which includes “Creating Camelot,” “Three Shots Were Fired” and the documentary, “A Thousand Days”. With the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination months away, the exhibit, which will be on display through year end, will bring back the details of the coverage for those 50+ American who remember the shock of the event. Only a visit to the 6th Floor Museum (see The Texas School Book Depository) in Dallas can compare.

The other don’t miss feature is one which more Americans have lived through—9/11. Again the coverage, stories, videos bring it back in a powerful way. And viewing the top of World Trade Center tower, which is displayed at the Newseum, also reminds us all of the horror of the day.

The world has changed and the changing nature of technology has made us all “journalists”. Anyone with a cell phone can be a “camera man”, and the ability to post immediately on YouTube provides the media for mass delivery. Twitter can and does provide instant impact of world events. We just saw instantaneous journalism again at the Boston Marathon bombings.

Growing up, I respected those who chose a career in journalism. I believed they worked in an incredibly exciting, meaningful, respected profession, one they could be proud of. It is a difficult profession today with declining employment, yet a critically important one. While the dignity of the profession remains, technology has changed the delivery forever and the days of Walter Cronkite as the “voice of God” are long gone. But at least the Newseum captures the golden days of journalism. If you’ve never visited, go soon. You’ll be glad you did.

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