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A shrine to journalism

Latest update : 2008-04-14

A museum dedicated to journalism has opened in Washington DC. The brainchild of USA Today founder Al Neuharth, the 'Newseum' traces back the good and the bad of the Fourth Estate, while stressing the need for "a free press in a free society".

Hold the front page! There's a new museum in the US capital, the Newseum, a shrine to journalism which traces the history of news from the first scribblings on clay to the digital age.
  
The glitzy new attraction on the Washington tourist trail, built at a cost of 450 million dollars, bills itself as the "World's Most Interactive Museum" and opens its doors to the public this week.
  
It features thousands of historic newspaper front pages, iconic news photos, hundreds of hours of film, artifacts and interactive games in 14 galleries, 15 theaters and two television studios.
  
It's the brainchild of USA Today newspaper founder Al Neuharth's Freedom Foundation, a non-profit group which Newseum executive director Joe Urschel described as "dedicated to free speech, free press and free spirit."
  
Emblazoned in giant letters in marble on the facade of the building are the 45 words of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and its admonition to Congress to make no law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
  
"The Newseum is a museum that looks at the importance of news and the importance of a free press in a free society," Urschel told AFP during a preview tour ahead of the April 11 opening.
  
More than 10 years in the making, the Newseum (www.newseum.org) is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, half-way between the White House and the US Capitol.
  
A KXAS-TV news helicopter and a communications satellite hover over the high-ceilinged atrium, the Great Hall of News, which features a giant video screen and glass elevators shuttling between the museum's seven floors.
  
Visitors can travel back in time to learn about the landmark 15th-century invention of the printing press or examine the oldest item in the collection, a 3,262-year-old clay brick with Cuneiform writing.
  
A News History Gallery displays more than 350 historic newspaper front pages under glass, a fraction of the 35,000 in the collection going back 500 years.
  
They include the Baltimore News Post of September 1, 1939 announcing the start of World War II ("Hitler Attacks Poles") and the Los Angeles Times of August 15, 1945 announcing its end, a simple boldface "Peace."
  

  
Newseum says it's the 'world's most interactive museum'
  

  
A 9/11 exhibit features coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks from around the world and the mangled remains of the broadcast tower that stood atop the World Trade Center. In a movie theater next door, journalists who were there recount what they witnessed in an emotional 15-minute film.
  
In another corner, a 40-foot (12-meter) concrete guard tower that stood near Checkpoint Charlie looms over a graffiti-covered section of the Berlin Wall.
  
A Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery features all the award-winning pictures since 1942 and interviews with 68 of the photographers who took them.
  
There's also a memorial to journalists, a soaring pane of glass bearing the names of 1,843 members of the media from around the world who have died covering the news between 1837 and 2007.
  
A huge wall map displays the status of press freedom around the world with green used for countries where the press is considered "most free," yellow for those where it's "somewhat free" and red for those where it's "least free."
  
The Newseum also features hundreds of artifacts, from the dramatic -- a shrapnel-riddled pickup truck used by Time magazine in Sarajevo -- to the quirky -- a red sweater worn by legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas to attract the president's attention at news conferences.
  
There's also a copy of Ernest Hemingway's press card from May 1944 when he was a war correspondent in Europe (he was 45 years old, six feet tall and a hefty 220 pounds at the time or 1.82 meters and 100 kilograms).
  
Among the highlights of the Newseum are its interactive games. Visitors can take on the role of editor to decide whether a reporting decision is ethical or not or become a photographer at the scene of a dramatic river rescue.
  
"Or you can stand in front of a screen and we'll put a scene in behind you and you can literally do a report or a television standup from the steps of the Capitol, the Supreme Court or some other location," Urschel said.
  
"We load the prompter with an appropriate script which you then read on camera into a microphone. We record that and then when you go home you can  download it from our website."
  
While the Newseum tends to celebrate the triumphs of the profession, there are reminders that journalists don't always get it right, from the fraudulent reporting of Jayson Blair of the New York Times to the November 3, 1948 front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune.
  
"Dewey Defeats Truman," its banner headline declares, inaccurately reporting that Republican challenger Thomas Dewey had defeated incumbent Harry Truman in the presidential race.

Date created : 2008-04-14

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