The inside story of news gathering

Exhibit: A traveling roadshow lets visitors try their hand at being a reporter or photographer.

August 06, 1999|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

Quick, it's decision time: You're a reporter covering tonight's sensational execution of a murderess. To guarantee a scoop, you: (a) hire an artist to sketch the moment of death; (b) sneak in a camera and photograph it yourself; or (c) interview the victim's family.

If you picked (c), you're not alone. That was the option favored by most visitors who played a journalistic "what if" game at NewsCapade, a nationally touring, interactive news exhibit now visiting Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Sponsored by the Newseum, the interactive museum of news in Arlington, Va. (and co-sponsored by The Sun), the exhibit allows visitors to its 2,000-square-foot pavilion to step into the roles of reporter, editor, photographer and on-air correspondent, as well as examine historic newspaper front pages and photographs.

During yesterday's opening, visitors also had the surreal experience of being interviewed by real reporters as they pretended to be one.

The attention didn't bother 8-year-old Calvin Blackwell, who could teach Katie Couric a thing or two about charisma. After grabbing a microphone, Blackwell, with his grinning pal Louis Sosa by his side, stood before a camera and ad-libbed a sports report. He closed with his own tag-line: "Peace out, man."

Moments later, the boys chortled as they watched a playback of their performance.

Across the room, a gray-haired woman stared at a display listing the century's top stories: U.S. drops bomb on Hiroshima; man walks on the moon; women win the right to vote.

"I remember some of these events very plainly," said Doris Gruber of Mesa, Ariz., who was in town to visit her daughter.

Other attractions included a device that allows visitors to take home mock newspapers with photographs and stories from the month and year they were born, and a video titled "Why can't they get it right?" that examined journalistic inaccuracies. Dan Rather narrated the video -- or possibly it was Sam Donaldson.

At a time when the media are under fire for everything from hounding relatives of tragedy victims to delving into politicians' personal lives, the exhibit on ethics in journalism seemed especially relevant.

Visitors were asked to make judgment calls on whether to print a story about a major sports figure who had AIDS (49 percent said yes), and whether they would pretend to be a family member of an airline crash victim to get a scoop (83 percent said no).

Then, they discovered how real journalists handled the dilemmas. In the case of the murderess' execution, which occurred in 1928, a reporter chose a different option than the public.

He snuck in a tiny camera, and the next day, the New York Daily News printed a photograph of housewife Ruth Snyder being electrocuted at Sing Sing prison in upstate New York.

NewsCapade

When: Noon-8 p.m. today through Sunday

Where: Rash Field, Key Highway

Admission: Free Call: 877-NEWSEUM (toll-free) for information about NewsCapade and the Newseum, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.

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