News Junkies' Nirvana
"Newseum" near Washington, D.C. examines millenia of media
May 4, 1997
|"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..." |
|-- United States Constitution, First Amendment
(CNN) -- A new interactive museum near Washington, D.C., is focusing on that vast, sometimes confounding statement America's Founding Fathers penned in the late 1700s -- and the history of information gathering and dissemination around the world, long before the U.S. Constitution came along.
The 72,000-square-foot "Newseum" opened in mid-April in Arlington, Virginia -- across the Potomac River from the city that generates more news than perhaps any other on the planet. The $50 million dollar museum is the project of the nonpartisan Freedom Forum Foundation.
It traces the development of media from the spoken word to satellites. In particular, it focuses on the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees Americans the fundamental freedoms of speech and press. The question "Why is a free press essential to democracy?" is the museum's central theme, according to its founders.
Journalists on both sides of podium at grand opening
Vice President Al Gore, who spent five years as a newspaper reporter for the "Nashville Tennessean," joined prominent journalists for the Newseum's April 18 opening. Drawing on a familiar theme, Gore hailed it as a bridge to help "build better understanding between the press and public."
Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas of UPI crossed over to the presenting side of the podium for the grand opening. Thomas -- after noting polls showing the media's current unpopularity with the public -- said the role of the press is to expose truth, a process she said may not be pretty sometimes, but is necessary in a free society.
From carrier pigeons to Cronkite
Before satellites, printing presses or even pencils, the news of the day made its way across the miles through spoken word and with the aid of drums, cuniform tablets, conch shells, even carrier pigeons.
The museum examines that heritage with memorabilia and artifacts -- such as 4,000 year old Egyptian tablets, a Gutenberg Bible (an example of early European printing), early radio microphones, and a color television camera used on the set of CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite -- which reveal the complexities and frailties of information delivery throughout the ages.
The museum's organizers say they have made interaction its core premise -- avoiding your typical "gaze and stroll" exhibits.
Some interactive highlights include:
- Computerized displays to find out what news events happened on a particular date
- Daily live interviews with major journalists
- The opportunity to play anchor or reporter in a simulated newsroom
Remembering the fallen
Though many see reporting as a glamorous career choice, the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial also stresses how dangerous the business can be. The memorial's 149 glass panels bear the names of hundreds of journalists who were killed in the process of getting the stories to their readers, listeners and viewers.
In keeping with the goal of celebrating a "free" press, there's no admission fee to the Newseum. It is open Wednesday through Sunday and is easily accessible on the Washington Metro, the area's rapid transit system.