Digital Disruption


The Newseum in Washington, D.C., just blocks from the Capitol, is a dazzling modernist palace dedicated to defending the free press and honoring the lofty profession of journalism. Its just opened "Digital Disruption" exhibition offers a timely and succinct account of how such platforms as Google and Twitter upended traditional media gatekeeping and enabled new voices and perspectives to engage broader audiences.

That's the positive; digital communications technologies also make it easier to spread disinformation, while hyperpartisan news sites exacerbate political and social divisions by confirming the biases of their readers and viewers.

But for all the good and the bad, this is the media world we mostly seem to want. Readers and advertisers have abandoned print for the web, with daily newspaper subscriptions more than halved over the last 35 years. Today, Facebook, Google, and YouTube get more advertising revenue than every newspaper, magazine, and radio network in the world combined.

The Newseum exhibition features five sections: the Internet Era, the Innovators, Social Media, the Disruptors, and Distortion. Various artifacts represent the transformation from old to new. These include media mogul Rupert Murdoch's phone with Fox News CEO Roger Ailes on speed dial, the Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold's notebook detailing candidate Donald Trump's exaggerations of his charitable contributions, and the Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs' broken glasses from when he was body-slammed by 2017 Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte.