First Reactions Run From 'Awesome' To 'Expensive'

At the Newseum in Washington, visitors can take in the history of news, then create some of their own by taking on the job of a journalist. Video by AP
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Newseum opened its doors yesterday to thousands of people who perused it, skimmed it, devoured it and panned it, treating the giant edifice to newsgathering and the First Amendment much like a hometown paper.

"I loved the history. Being my age, it was nice to look back on all the events during my lifetime, all the news," said Katherine Rice, 63, of the Tri-Cities area of Washington state, as she ate yogurt in the cafeteria. "And I loved the pictures. The Pulitzer photographs. And the cartoons -- don't forget the cartoons."

The 250,000-square-foot Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue marked its grand opening with free admission. For most of the day, the line stretched more than a block. About 10,800 people packed into the high-tech, glass-encased museum. Newseum spokeswoman Susan Bennett said that the facility reached capacity "sometime after 2 p.m." and that more than 1,000 free tickets were handed out to people who couldn't get in yesterday to come back today.

The Newseum has 14 galleries, 15 theaters and interactive studios that allow visitors to do stand-up television reports in front of a selection of quintessential Washington backdrops. In the interactive newsroom, schoolchildren mugged and flashed peace signs in front of the White House, teenagers treated their segments like hip-hop videos before the Capitol dome and a father delivered his report, deadpan, holding a sleeping toddler clinging to his neck. Each "reporter" received a photograph of the segment.

Alice-Marie Palluth, in a lemon-yellow sweater, chose the cherry blossom backdrop and nervously read from a teleprompter.

"My eyes were moving the whole time. Up and down. I just don't know if I did a very good job," worried Palluth, a State Department retiree who didn't want her age published. "But at my age, well, I had to give this television thing a try."

Other visitors tried their hand at editing, reporting and photographing stories through video simulators that praised or scolded them for their news judgment.

"Mom got us fired!" said Alex Leicht, 13, of Pine Brook, N.J., after his mother chose a not-so-compelling photograph of a dramatic water rescue for the front page of her virtual newspaper.

The burgers, served in a Wolfgang Puck cafe, the Food Section, most impressed Joe Garen's three sons, he said. Garen, who is in town from Charlotte visiting relatives, said he was awed by the breadth of the exhibits.

"Initially, I didn't think I'd want to pay $20 for this, so we came on the free day," Garen said. "But now, seeing everything in here, I think it would be worth it. It's awesome."

Not everyone was so sanguine about the admission fee.

Garen's mother-in-law, Evelyn Van Gelder, 74, of Rockville, said she worried that in this economy, most families could not afford a day in the Newseum.

Frajille Ellis, 32, of the District said she wouldn't return if she had to pay $20 admission for adults and $13 for each of her three children. She also was unhappy at prices in the restaurant, with its tiramisu gelato and Chinois salad.

"Lunch for us was $42!," Ellis said. "It was expensive."

But the rest of the museum had a different effect on her. She was swept away by the television screens and movies and crowds, six floors of glass and metal and video.

Then, she entered the room where one of the World Trade Center's broadcast towers was on display. "All this noise all around. And then in that area, it was quiet and tranquil," she said. "And it made me think."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company