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The Newseum Puts Out a New Edition
Crowds gather in front of the Newseum on opening day
A 50-foot front page banner was unfurled at the Newseum on its grand opening April 11. (Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson)

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The Newseum

By Tamra Tomlinson
Maryland Newsline
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

WASHINGTON - Reading a daily newspaper is quickly becoming thought of as a quaint activity from the past. But, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street in Washington, it’s the beginning of a trip into the future.

A display of newspaper front pages from all 50 states and the District of Columbia greets patrons and passers-by each morning at the recently reopened Newseum, which uses the newest technology to explore the news history of the last 500 years.

The original Newseum in Arlington, Va., closed in March 2002 after attracting more than 2.25 million visitors during the nearly five years it was open, according to publicity materials. Construction began on the six-story, $450 million replacement in Washington in December 2003.

Newseum Executive Director and Senior Vice President Joe Urschel said the decision to move was partially logistical, but also was propelled by the Newseum’s success at the original location.

“Attendance was increasing each year,” Urschel said “There was no more room to expand at the old site … and we wanted to be close to the other museums.”

They also wanted to create larger and more interactive exhibits than the Arlington site could accommodate, he said.

Linda Roggero, 57, of Baltimore, who was among the thousands who came out on opening day a few weeks ago to see the new facility, approves. “You’d have to come here, I don’t know, a dozen times to see everything,” she said.
The Newseum’s 250,000 square feet are part of a 643,000-square-foot complex that also contains offices, a restaurant and apartments, and sits adjacent to the Canadian Embassy.

Its new location is also steeped in history: It’s on the former site of the National Hotel, where John Wilkes Booth took a room shortly before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

What’s Inside

The Newseum, which bills itself as “the world’s most interactive museum,” features more than 125 interactive game and simulation kiosks, 15 theaters and two television studios.

Its collection of artifacts and media are meant to highlight the role of news media in both recording the history of societies and encouraging change within them, according to a Newseum visitors’ guide.

When patrons enter the first floor Great Hall of News, their eyes are drawn up to the Bell Jet Ranger news helicopter that’s suspended from the atrium’s 90-foot high ceiling and appears to hover just above the admissions ticket desk.

Sunlight floods in through the floor-to-ceiling windows on three levels that provide a panoramic view of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Just opposite the windows hangs a 40-by-22-foot high definition media screen, which is also meant to be visible outside the building at night.

But modern architecture and the technology to create all those bells and whistles doesn’t come cheap. While admission is free to other museums in the neighborhood, including the National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art, regular adult admission to the Newseum is $20. Children under 13 are admitted for $13, seniors 65 and over for $18, and children under 7 for free.

Cost comparisons with federally funded attractions in the neighborhood aren’t fair, Urschel said, because the Newseum is privately funded.

“We’re not a government-funded museum. … The cost is in line with private and public-private museums in other cities,” he said.

Among the Newseum's funders are foundations such as the Freedom Forum, The Annenberg Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Corporate sponsors include NBC News, Bloomberg L.P. and Comcast Corp.

On the Newseum’s April 11 opening day, admission was free and staff counted more than 10,480 visitors by 2:30 p.m., when admission was cut off.

Figures were not yet available for average attendance since regular prices went into effect.

Aaron Jettleson, 36, an actor from Brooklyn who plays the role of legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow in one of the Newseum’s signature films, came dressed on opening day for his movie role. Taking a break from posing for pictures with museum guests and taking compliments on his period suit and fedora, Jettleson reflected on his experience working on the film.

“It’s so cool to really get to act in something that’s educational instead of trying to get five lines on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “ he said.

First Impressions

On the second floor, visitors played interactive news judgment and trivia games like "Be a Photographer," "Race for Your Rights" and "Newsmania" in the Ethics Center, and stood in line to take turns in front of the camera in the "Be a TV Reporter" exhibit.

On opening day every kiosk was occupied, sometimes by more than one person. At several kiosks, children giggled and nudged each other as two or three of them tried to sit on the same seat.

“Mostly I wanted to see the comics and the old newspapers,” said Jimmy McMillian, 10, who came on a school trip with his classmates from North Chevy Chase Elementary School.

The Newseum’s concourse level features a hallway comic strip gallery, and the fifth floor’s News History Gallery contains archived newspaper front pages marking historic events since the 15th Century, ranging from the Boston Tea Party to the death of Elvis Presley.

“So far, my favorite would have to be the Berlin Wall,” McMillian said, referring to the eight 12-foot tall sections of the Berlin Wall on display. The Berlin Wall Gallery follows the 30-year history of the wall through newspaper articles and photos. It also contains one of the 300 guard towers that stood along the 27-mile barrier between East and West Berlin.

On the fourth level, Linda Roggero had just left the 9/11 Gallery, which is dedicated to news coverage of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. One wall of the gallery is hung with 127 newspaper front pages reporting on the attacks from around the world. They stand opposite the twisted, buckled, 30-foot section of the top of the antenna mast from the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

The top of that antenna was once the highest point in New York City.

“I haven’t really thought about [Sept. 11] that much so specifically for a number of years now,” Roggero said. “It just clarifies it as if it were yesterday. … It was really something.”

Dedication, Despite Danger and Death

The 9/11 Gallery is just one of the exhibit spaces in the Newseum that are dedicated to the dangers that journalists around the world face daily while doing their work.

Just around the corner from it sits a tiny gallery containing the small, white Datsun that belonged to Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles. The floor underneath where the driver’s seat once sat is peeled back from the force of the detonation of a six-stick dynamite bomb that was planted under the car, killing Bolles in June 1976. Bolles had spent several years writing about organized crime and political corruption in Arizona, which investigators said angered many of those he wrote about. John Harvey Adamson, Max Dunlap and James Robison served prison sentences for their involvement in Bolles’ murder.

One floor down, in the exhibit titled “Dateline: Danger,” personal effects tell the story of journalists who have lost limbs, their freedom or their lives covering conflicts all over the world.

A few steps away, the two-story Journalists Memorial’s 24 glass panels are etched with the names of 1,843 journalists around the world who have lost their lives since 1837, either while doing their jobs or because of news stories that they’ve produced.

The View from the Top

On the sixth floor, visitors step out onto the terrace running most of the length of the building and immediately reach for their cameras as they marvel at the 180-degree view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.

Back inside, there’s another chance to peruse the day’s news from up to 80 countries in the Today’s Front Pages gallery. Although visitors have to walk right through the gallery to get to the terrace, it’s easy to overlook at first as the view beckons. If you can’t make it to the Newseum, its Web site posts electronic versions of more than 500 international front pages each day. (View them by clicking on the interactive map.)

After a stop for souvenirs at the two-level Newseum Store downstairs, some patrons could be heard remarking with surprise that their visits had lasted almost four hours.

They said they’d like to come back -- even for $20.

Copyright 2008 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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