By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008
Tops among this weekend's entertainment headlines is the opening of the Newseum, downtown Washington's reincarnated version of the former Rosslyn attraction dedicated to the history and evolution of news gathering. When it opens its shiny glass doors today, the 250,000-square-foot museum promises to become a significant new player in the city's crowded cultural scene.
But what will you find when you get there? Only 14 major thematic exhibits; 15 theaters; a gallery of newspaper front pages that changes daily; hundreds of artifacts from major news stories (including a chunk of twisted wreckage from the North Tower of the World Trade Center); and so much audio and video it would take you more than a day to watch and listen to it all. In short, the seven-story institution could arguably be said to offer a different experience every time you visit.
Want to pick up a souvenir in the gift shop? There are four distinct shopping areas. Maybe grab a bite to eat? You could sample the cafeteria-style offerings in the Food Section food court one visit and treat yourself to the more upscale table service at the Source by Wolfgang Puck the next. Don't worry; you'll have worked up an appetite. Just walking the Newseum's 1 1/2 linear miles of exhibits takes nearly two hours, and that's without really stopping to linger over much.
So, how to navigate this jungle? Well, you came to the right place. Stay tuned as we supply the who, what, where, when, why and how (not to mention how much) needed to simplify your visit.
Is there a recommended route for first-time visitors?
Yes. Start in the Great Hall, just inside the Newseum's main entrance at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial). Overhead you'll see a replica of a Bell 206B news chopper and a giant video screen. Take the escalators down one flight to the Concourse level. Check out the short orientation film, and then ride the glass elevators near the Berlin Wall fragment up to the sixth floor. Work your way back downstairs on foot.
· Avoid using the museum's C Street entrance when tour buses are loading or unloading.
· Morning looks to be the best time to avoid crowds. Take advantage of the 9-to-5 daily hours. That's one hour before most Smithsonian museums open, and a full 2 1/2 hours earlier than the nearby Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.
· If you've been to the Newseum when it was in Rosslyn, skip the orientation film. It's a slightly updated version of what you saw at the old museum, and you'll save a few minutes.
· For your second visit only, or for maverick first-timers: Bypass the glass elevators entirely, which don't stop between the Concourse and the sixth floor. At the east and west ends of the Great Hall are stairs and elevators that access every floor. Go crazy.
How much does it cost?
Admission on opening day is free. Beginning Saturday, timed tickets are $20, seniors $18, ages 7 to 12 $13, free for children younger than 7. To buy tickets, call 888-639-7386, visit http://www.newseum.org or go to the admissions desk at the museum.
· Want to play with one of the eight "Be a TV Reporter" stations in the NBC News Interactive Newsroom (Level 2)? That's $8 extra. If you're old enough to remember the feature from the old Newseum (it makes a video of you delivering a fake news report), save yourself the money. One big improvement for the YouTube generation: Instead of a videotape to take home, you get a code to retrieve your clip online (and presumably post it to your Facebook account).
· If you even think you might be a repeat customer (and with so much to see, it's not a bad idea), consider buying an annual "Press Pass." The cost, which includes unlimited free admission to the Newseum and the "Be a TV Reporter" stations as well as a 10 percent store discount, is $75 for adults, seniors $50, ages 7 to 12 $25.
What's the most gee-whiz new technology?
There are two cool attractions included in the admission price.
The first is the "Ethics Table." The interactive quiz pits two teams answering questions about journalistic ethics, such as the following head-scratcher: "Your photographer has two good pictures of a candidate -- one flattering, one unflattering. Your newspaper endorsed her opponent. Do you use the unflattering picture?" That might sound like a question for "The McLaughlin Group," but trust me: The quiz, which uses Wii-like technology including mirrors, video projection and intuitive hand movements, is more fun than journalism school. Ethics Center, Level 2.
A second high-tech feature is "I-Witness: A 4-D Time Travel Adventure," an original short film that tells the story of three pioneering journalists using such theme-park technology as 3-D glasses, moving seats and blasts of air and water to create an immersive, "4-D" experience. Is it slightly cheesy? Heck, yes. Did I nevertheless jump out of my skin when female reporter Nellie Bly tossed a live "rat" in my "lap"? Um, no, that must have been the guy next to me. "I-Witness" repeats three times every hour in the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater. Follow the signs from either the Concourse or Level 1.
All this talk of live rats is making me hungry. Where's the food?
You'll find the Newseum's in-house eatery on the Concourse. A collaboration between celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and Restaurant Associates (the folks responsible for the National Museum of the American Indian's well-received Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe), the cafeteria-style Food Section -- get it? -- features a menu that includes chicken fingers and pizza for picky eaters and such rotating "Puck's Favorites" as provencal king salmon. Entrees range from $5 to $14.
More-formal dining is available next door to the Newseum at the Source by Wolfgang Puck (575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). Call 202-637-6100 for lunch or dinner reservations.
· If hunger pangs strike midway through your visit, make a mental note of where you left off and head for the elevators at either end of the building (there are two on each floor). Take them to the Concourse. After eating, finding your way back to where you left off is easy using the same elevators.
How appropriate are the exhibits for kids?
As the orientation film "What's News?" points out, news reporting involves matters of life and death, love and hate. Consequently, strong images scattered throughout the museum could upset young or sensitive visitors, particularly in the galleries devoted to the 9/11 attacks (Level 4) and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs (Level 1). Parents should check them out before bringing smaller children through. Newseum staff members have been trained to alert families to the presence of potentially disturbing imagery.
I've heard the Newseum has stunning views of downtown Washington. Where's the best place to take a picture?
You heard right.
When you get off the elevator on the sixth floor, grab your camera and head straight for the Hank Greenspun Terrace. Overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, the outdoor balcony boasts panoramic views of the Mall from the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court in the east to the Washington Monument in the west.
· If it's crowded, try the Capitol Terrace (Level 2) instead. Less jaw-dropping but still impressive.
Crowds make me nervous. What other likely bottlenecks should I avoid?
There are at least two potential logjams, both in the News Corp. News History Gallery on Level 5. The "News From a Different Angle" exhibit, which focuses on such fake news phenomena as "Weekend Update" from "Saturday Night Live" and Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," has proved to be a traffic stopper with preview tours.
Another surefire people magnet? The 1964 National Enquirer cover featuring a black-and-white autopsy photo of Lee Harvey Oswald's corpse. Gruesome, yes, but fascinating. When on view at the old Newseum, it was the single most viewed item in the museum's collection of historic newspapers. You'll find it (or avoid it) in the pull-out drawers that run down the center of the gallery.
Will I recognize anything else from the old place?
Sure, lots. Remember that bullet-riddled pickup door at the old Newseum, for instance? The artifact, from the armor-reinforced truck used by Time magazine staffers during the 1990s strife in the former Yugoslavia, is on view, except this time there's room to show the whole truck. Look for the "Dateline: Danger" display on Level 3.
· Speaking of cars, another powerful reminder of the risks faced by journalists is the bombed-out car belonging to Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles (Level 4). Bolles, who was working on a story tip about Arizona mobsters, died from injuries sustained in a 1976 attack in Phoenix. Galvanized by his death, other journos took up his investigation of organized crime. Forget James Bond's Aston Martin at the International Spy Museum. This is the real -- and real grisly -- deal.
Sounds heavy. What's the goofiest thing on display?
You mean like the pair of spangled blue slippers donated by former Wonkette blogger Ana Marie Cox (News Corp. News History Gallery, Level 5)? Worn while writing from her home office, they're destined to become the Newseum's campy answer to Dorothy's ruby slippers, part of the Smithsonian's collection.
Funky artifacts are all well and good, but I'm more interested in the whole meta-concept underlying the Newseum. You know, gathering information about information gathering. Where do wonks like me go?
Make a beeline for the third floor, and hang out there. That's where you'll find a gallery devoted to the way the Internet, TV and radio have changed, and continue to change, the way we get news. On the same floor, the Time Warner World News Gallery helps remind viewers that, in an age of globalization, all news is not local.
Can I go inside the big TV studio?
Yes. When you arrive at the Newseum, check out the day's schedule for the Knight Studio on Level 3. Guided tours, interactive games such as "News Mania" and public affairs shows where you can be an audience member are available throughout the day.
Okay, I'm done. Where do I pick up my T-shirt?
Located on the first and second floors off the Great Hall, the museum shops are positioned to grab your eye (and wallet) coming and going. Toys and games are on the ground floor, next to a second shopping area featuring mainly books, DVDs and replicas of historic front pages. On Level 2, you'll find your novelty T-shirts ("Trust me. I'm a reporter.") and Newseum logo-wear, next to a more upscale mini-shop offering news-themed jewelry, ceramics and clothing. ·