SMPA class offers hands-on learning at the Newseum

Correction appended

Students in Michael Freedman’s class don’t learn history from a textbook. They immerse themselves in history once a week at one of the District’s newest museums: the Newseum.

Freedman is part of the Newseum’s Educational Advisory Team, and when he learned he would be teaching Media History this semester, Freedman created a part-classroom, part-lab course experience at the museum.

The class meets once a week at the Newseum Wednesday afternoons. Freedman, who is the director of GW’s Global Media Institute, said the location provides him with a backdrop to conduct a course he hopes will enable students to succeed in the world of journalism.

“At best, some of our students will become the leaders of the industry for tomorrow,” he said. “It’s not just important, but imperative for the students to get to know how we got to where we are in order to have a fundamental understanding of both the best parts of it and those elements that need to be reshaped.”

Students in the class said the exhibits at the Newseum supplement the course by adding a certain reality to the readings.

Senior Conor McSweeney said the museum brings depth to class discussions, citing a recent class that took place in the Newseum’s 9/11 exhibit as an example.

“Obviously it’s possible to teach a media history course at GW exclusively in the classroom, but I think professor Freedman realizes that he’d be missing a huge opportunity if he did that,” McSweeney said in an e-mail. “His class is a perfect example of why I came to GW. It uses the resources of the city to make the learning experience more fun, more interesting, and really unique to our school.”

Holding the lecture in the shadow of the antenna from the World Trade Center’s north tower presents a dramatic and emotional experience, McSweeney said.

During the lecture, students heard from Gary Baumgarten, a former correspondent for CNN Radio, while examining national and global newspaper front pages from Sept. 11 and 12. After watching the film “Running Toward Danger,” students spoke with the film’s producer, Kent Crawford, and the curator of the exhibit.

Senior Julian Gompertz said the class session was one of the best moments of the semester because of the powerful emotions the exhibit evoked.

“Being a native New Yorker, that day takes on a different meaning for me than I believe it does for others. The opportunity to delve into that tragic day was extremely taxing, yet unbelievably rewarding for how well done that entire exhibit is,” Gompertz said. “You could read about 9/11, yet here you see the tower which simply illustrates the realism and significance of these events.”

In addition to the location, students said that Freedman’s connections in the field of journalism provide opportunities for them to learn from working professionals.

During one class session, students spoke via conference call with Laura King, a foreign correspondent who covers the war in Afghanistan for the Los Angeles Times, and with Richard Hottelet, who is the last living member of the original team of reporters assembled by Edward Murrow to cover World War II for CBS.

The success of the course has Freedman and the Newseum working on a template for future courses modeled after this semester

“We talk about GW using all of Washington as its campus. I think our students really do that. Nobody has to push our students to go to the Newseum, or the U.S. Capitol, or the Archives, or get internships all over the city,” Freedman said. “With the advantage of time, you can dig deeper into everything that is here in Washington. That’s what we’re trying to do with this course.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction (April 19, 2010).

The article originally stated that Gary Baumgarten was a current correspondent for CNN.

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