The Newseum’s Front Pages — A Rich Media Literacy Resource

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The Front Pages exhibit in front of the Newseum. Can you see the Capitol dome in the distance?

If you are seeking a new and creative medialit resource — for home or school learning — take some time to discover and explore the Today’s Front Pages exhibit on display at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Visitors to the city can set aside a block of time to visit the Newseum itself, but those who don’t have time for a longer visit can still check out the front pages on the sidewalk in front of the Newseum (for free).

Not traveling to the Nation’s Capital? No problem. The Newseum makes it easy to visit Today’s Front Pages online — each day all 800 Front Pages are posted on the website. And there’s even a Today’s Front Pages app.

No matter where you see them, the Front Page exhibits are rich with learning possibilities.

front pages 6th floor

The Front Pages exhibit up on the 6th floor of the Newseum.

More than 2000 newspapers have agreed to make their front pages available to the Newseum, so each morning around 6:30, the front pages team downloads about 800 files, selects about 80 for the exhibit. The team prints two copies of each — one for the exhibit on the sixth floor and one for the Newseum’s front sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue. Outside the front pages are up by the time most people head for work.

Each day the Front Pages team posts a slightly different set of front pages. Newspapers come from small towns, big cities, regions, and even foreign countries. Each printed page is the size of a poster, so it’s easy to read, check out details, and compare and contrast headlines, layouts, photos, and graphics. Given the readability, detail, and resolution of the printouts, the printer must be awesome.

Today's Front PagesEvery front page has it’s own discrete look and feel — great topic of conversation for kids, because they can note which newspapers encourage them
to read more and which do not. At other times a local or regional story gets equal billing with a national or international event. Anyone who spends time looking at the front pages is applying core principles of media literacy — reflecting, evaluating, and thinking about how the newspapers demonstrate different beliefs and cultures — even in different parts of the United States. I can imagine students working on connected learning activities using the app in social studies, history, language arts, English, anthropology, and  journalism classes.

A screen shot from the app, showing part of the map that shows where front pages come from. Click to learn more.

It’s especially interesting to compare the photos, looking at each picture and thinking about perspective of the photography. Different photos may accompany the same stories — or sometimes the same photo shows up in most of the stories. And although it’s a bit harder to decipher and read the front pages when papers are in another language, it’s still interesting to look at the photos.

An important caveat to note: the Newseum does not archive all of the front pages. The team changes the exhibit  from day-to-day, but the archive does contain newspapers that there published on special or “big event” days.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 8.04.18 PMSince I live in the Washington, DC area, I’ve visited the Newseum many times, usually but not always with students. I’ve learned that the mission of the Newseum is to explain, promote, and preserve the fundamental rights that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees. Can you name the five freedoms? Not only to these front pages demonstrate freedom of speech and the press, but they also reflect, at the same time, our country’s diversity and the ways we are all alike.

Each time I visit, I’m inspired by all of the Newseum’s exhibits, but no matter what else I do, I keep returning to the front pages exhibit. It’s a gold standard media literacy resource, and how wonderful that the exhibit lives in the Newseum, but is also available online to anyone who wants to use it in the classroom. And there’s lots more learning resources available at the NewseumEd website.

The casual observer may walk along the pages glancing at a few newspapers and moving on, however people who spend even a few minutes looking over the newspapers will find themselves reflecting on the extraordinary nature and power of a free press.

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