$50 million news museum opens in Virginia Interactive Newseum features hands-on experience with media

April 20, 1997|By FEDERAL NEWS SERVICECOX NEWS SERVICE

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The definition emblazoned by the doorway informs visitors to the Newseum that news is "1. A report of recent events, especially unusual or notable ones."

This report concerns such an event: The world's first interactive museum of news and the newest attraction in metropolitan Washington, opened Friday across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial.

Vice President Al Gore was on hand for opening day festivities and President Clinton telephoned his good wishes.

"We are here to celebrate the press," Gore said. "This is where we take a critical look at how that freedom has been used and sometimes abused."

Five years and $50 million in the making, the multimedia, whiz-bang, hands-on, admission-free Newseum uses high-tech wizardry and artifacts to put outsiders inside the often criticized subculture of journalism and to answer a reporter's basic "5 W's" - who, what, where, when and why - on how the news business works.

'Inside story of news'

"The Newseum will tell the inside story of news through the ages," said Allen H. Neuharth, the former Gannett newspaper executive who founded USA Today and, as chairman of the Freedom Forum, has been the driving force behind the Newseum.

"By taking visitors behind the scenes, we hope to forge a deeper understanding of the role of news and a free press in our lives," he explained in a statement.

The Newseum is funded and operated by the Freedom Forum, a private foundation "dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit" and largely led by former news executives of the Gannett Co., which owns local newspapers and television stations around the country.

In an era where network newscasts are losing viewers and newspapers are searching for ways to attract readers, the Newseum will have to compete with the White House, Smithsonian Institution and other traditional attractions for a share of the 20 million tourists who visit the nation's capital each year. But Peter S. Prichard, executive director of the Newseum and former USA Today editor in chief, believes Americans are interested in the news media - especially the insider aspects - and will add the Newseum to their must-see checklist, once they know its here.

Located amid office towers and two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro station, the gleaming dome of the three-story Newseum is hard to miss.

In the lobby, visitors are greeted by a giant suspended sphere of 1,841 newspaper nameplates from around the world, including one from every daily in the United States. The globe will be updated to delete nameplates of newspapers that fold and add those of any new dailies. Circling the sphere is an ever-moving equatorial ribbon of illuminated words - called a "crawl" on television screens - that gives the headlines of the day.

Some noted mottoes

On a wall near this "News Globe" are mottoes taken from the mastheads of 88 newspapers: Some are famous journalistic boasts, such as the Atlanta Journal's "Covers Dixie Like The Dew" and the New York Times' "All The News That's Fit To Print." Others are colorfully honest: "Liked By Many, Cussed By Some, Read By All," claims the Blackshear (Ga.) Times. "Our Aim: To Fear God, Tell the Truth and Make Money," declares the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. "If You Don't Want It Printed, Don't Let It Happen," warns the Aspen (Colo.) Daily News.

Beneath the sphere are computer monitors that provide the first interactive experience for visitors: finding a newspaper front page from their birth date. The account includes major news and pictures, top movies and records, and the horoscope from the day you were born. Point to the "print" icon and you can buy a "hard copy" of this Birthday Banner front page for $3 in the nearby store.

This second-floor Newseum Store stocks journalistic souvenirs ranging from cuddly stuffed Editor Bears to T-shirts showing Thoth, the Egyptian god of scribes, to a Be-a-Reporter CD-ROM game for children to jewelry fashioned from typewriter keys.

Also on the second floor:

The entrance to a 220-seat domed theater with a high-definition video screen that will show a movie on the history and values of the news media by Charles Guggenheim, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker.

An ever-changing display of front pages from newspapers around the world - including at least one from every state - that will give visitors a look at that day's news, sometimes even from their hometowns.

A broadcast studio where visitors can stand in front of a blue wall and see it change on the TV monitor to a backdrop of a sunlit U.S. Capitol. The tourist can then read some news from a TelePrompTer and have the performance recorded and packaged into a videocassette. Thus, for $15, the visitors can take home a videotape of what appears to be a personal news report from Capitol Hill.

An interactive newsroom where, through point-and-go computer games, visitors can become reporters or editors and have their performances assessed by professional journalists.

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