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.
An interactive ethics center where, again through computer games, visitors are confronted with situations requiring judgments of journalistic ethics - the case of Richard Jewell and the Olympic bombing in Atlanta is one - and can compare their own responses with what actually happened.
The Newseum exhibits were designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the New York firm that also helped create the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Like the Holocaust Museum and the White House, the Newseum will require advance scheduling, with visitors picking up free tickets beforehand and touring at a set time.
The facility can comfortably handle about 1,000 visitors at a time, estimated Prichard.
The Newseum's most spectacular exhibit is on the third floor. The News Wall - promoted as "a living mural of the Global Village" - is a 126-foot-long, 12-foot high panorama of live video newscasts and real-time satellite feeds from around the world.
So what is happening in the outside world on any given day will shape each visitor's experience inside the Newseum, said Prichard. On a day when a major story is gripping the globe, the News Wall might well be the best place on Earth to follow the developments.
In control rooms at the Newseum, the equipment and staffing is comparable to that at a commercial television station, Prichard said.
News History Gallery
The third-floor News History Gallery displays an array of journalistic artifacts of the sort found in more traditional museums. There's a Gutenberg Bible, the earliest known book; a report Columbus sent back to Spain about his discovery of the New World; a quill pen used by Charles Dickens; a satchel of items, including pencil and paper, carried by Mark Kellogg, the Associated Press reporter who died chronicling Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn; one of Bob Woodward's Watergate notebooks (no, he doesn't mention Deep Throat, his famous secret source). There are also front pages from the 1940s, television reports from the 1960s and a News Bijou that shows a short movie on how Hollywood has portrayed journalists over the decades.
In other interactive displays, visitors can "interview" famous journalists like Walter Cronkite and Ben Bradlee via computer. And every day, a working journalist will be on hand to answer questions from visitors.
The News Byte Cafe provides a place to snack and click into on-line news services. Picnicking is permitted outside in the adjoining Freedom Park, which displays its own interesting icons, which include:
Segments of the Berlin Wall.
A toppled, headless statue on Lenin from St. Petersburg.
Cobblestones from a Warsaw ghetto where Jewish families were forced to live in World War II.
A bronze casting of the Birmingham, Ala., jail cell door that was used to lock up Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.
In the center of the park is the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial, which honors newspeople who were killed covering stories or murdered to silence their reporting.
Details on Newseum
Location: 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.; take D.C. Metro's Blue or Orange Line to the Rosslyn Station.
Phone: 1-888-NEWSEUM (toll free)
Admission: Free, but advance ticketing required.
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Groups: Call 1-888-NEWSEUM for reservations. Free bus parking is available nearby.
Text of Clinton's remarks; President: 'This museum is not only a tribute to the news profession; it's also a tribute to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to it.'
Here is the text of President Clinton's remarks by telephone at the opening of the Newseum in Arlington, Va.:
Thank you, Al [Neuharth] and Charles [Guggenheim] and Peter [Prichard]. Thanks a lot for asking me an easy question that can only get me in trouble.
Whatever I say, I'll be behind the curve ball, which is, of course, where all of you try to keep me. (Laughter.) Nonetheless, I'm glad to be with you today.
And I am glad the vice president was able to officially open the Newseum. And I'm glad he told you the stories that I hear about once a week about his days as a reporter. (Laughter.) He says he was always accurate, vigorous and totally fair. (Laughter.)
Thanks to the technological wizardry that you've built into this wonderful museum, I'm able to join you on your video news wall for the grand opening. It's amazing to me that this is happening.
You know, when I was growing up, I got my news from my local paper or watching the 6 o'clock news on my family's black and white TV, and I suppose I never imagined the incredible array of ways people would someday get their news and their information, from all-news radio and TV to the Internet, and all the sort of near-news programs.
I think that's why this museum is so important, because it will remind us that we've come a long way but, no matter how it's packaged or delivered, news has always fulfilled mankind's most basic need to know.
'I congratulate you'
And it also reminds us that democracy's survival depends upon that need to know and the free flow of ideas and information. I congratulate you on giving our children and their parents an opportunity to learn about the role news media has in protecting our freedoms and helping us to build the most robust and open society in human history.
This museum is not only a tribute to the news profession; it's also a tribute to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to it, who know that always there are going to be people who will work hard to struggle, sometimes at real personal risk to themselves, to get the news and, hopefully, to be fair, honest and critical in their reporting of it.
America is stronger and freer because of them, and I thank them.
This museum is really a great addition to the Washington area, and I know it will attract a lot of visitors, not only from every state but also from all around the world.
Now, the question you asked me is a fair one and a good one. I think that the fundamental role of the news media and reporting today is what it has always been, it's to get people information in a fair and accurate way; but the context is far different.
There are, first of all, more sources of news, there is more information that people have to process, and people get their news in more different ways. And as I said, there are all these sort of near-news sources that are bearing down on you and offering competition.
I sometimes wonder what it's like to put together an evening news program or a morning newspaper when the main story has been playing every five minutes on CNN for six hours and whether you really - whether that affects what you do or not.
'From my perspective . . .'
I would say that from my perspective, the most important thing is that while we're being inundated with this glut of information, that we try to make sure that people have a proper context within which to understand the information.
I think that the - the - the fact that we can have more facts than ever before is important. But if you don't have any framework within which to understand those facts, it seems to me it poses an enormous challenge.
The other thing that I think we have to do is to - to be careful, when we report stories about things that might be true, not to say that they are, particularly if - if to say that they are, to imply that they are, could cause real damage to people in - in their reputations and indeed in - in their own lives.
But I think that the competition to which you're subject makes it more difficult both to keep down excessive hype in some stories and to take the time and the effort to put it in proper context.
I think in some ways it is much more difficult to be a member of the news media than in years past. It's a great challenge.
And all the benefits of this communications explosion impose new challenges on you to meet the old-fashioned duty of being accurate, thorough, tough, and fair.
Pub Date: 4/20/97