Correction to This Article
This article about the Newseum incorrectly said that a printing press on display there was used by Solidarity editors in Poland. The press was from Romania, where it was stolen from a state printing plant to publish a dissident underground newspaper. The article also misspelled the first name of humorist Stephen Colbert, who appears in a video clip at the museum.

Reminders of the cost of freedom at the Newseum

The Journalists Memorial at the Newseum.
The Journalists Memorial at the Newseum. (James P. Blair - Newseum)
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

In the dozen years or so the Newseum has been around, at least 178 U.S. newspapers have died. So it is tempting to take up the museum on its "if you walk fast, you can make it in (about) two hours" advice, grimace at the $19.95-plus-tax ticket, laugh at the institution's self-deprecating humor (the Stephen Colbert clip in News History/Level 5 observes how "construction of this museum fittingly marks the end of the news . . . we don't need it anymore") and treat the Newseum as a $450 million concrete obituary to the glory days of a has-been business.


The Newseum's 38,800 historic newspapers, images and cartoons, liberally interspersed with 8,149 artifacts ranging from the sublime to the silly -- from a 1416 letter relaying news of the Battle of Agincourt to the slippers worn by Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox -- are an absorbing and sobering tour de force encompassing five centuries of news.

It might then seem ironic that what brings it all home to me circa 2010 is the one exhibit that will always be firmly rooted in the past: the Journalists Memorial.

To get there, head to Level 3. Walk into World News, with its spectacular wall-to-wall map of the world that shows countries in green, yellow and red based on press freedoms. Pause to examine a ballot box used in the apartheid-ending 1994 South African elections, a bronze life-size reproduction of the Goddess of Democracy statue that lasted five days in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and the homemade, clandestine printing press used by Solidarity editors in Poland.

Turn the corner from Press Freedoms past the bullet-riddled Chevrolet truck used by Time photographers in the Balkans and gear used by Bob Woodruff and other brave journalists who risked their lives for their stories.

And there you are. The light-filled, soaring dual walls of the Journalists Memorial, honoring those who died in the pursuit of news -- reporters, photographers, broadcasters and executives.

Facing you are Images of the Fallen, a wall of postcard-size photographs -- smiling, earnest, serious -- of some of the 1,900 journalists who died on the job since 1837. Walk up closer and you will read that 30 died on one day-- Nov. 23, 2009 -- in a massacre on Mindanao Island in the Philippines.

Look to your left and, as shafts of light stream down from the windows, crane your neck to read the names etched on glass panes that curve and reach into the skies. If they are hard to read, don't give up. These are men and women who have given all they could so that some of us can count on a free press in a free society.

Pick a name, walk over to the touch screens, pull up the profile and read it. Or pick a year. For 1966, the year I was born, there is just one name: Neil K. Hulbert, a photographer for the Humboldt Standard of Eureka, Calif. Hulbert died in a plane crash on Mount Fuji on his way to Vietnam for an assignment.

Unlike many hushed, dimly lit sections of the Newseum, the Journalists Memorial is full of light. As it should be.

And as you walk out of the Newseum into a world riddled with talk of blogs, search engines, Twitter and social media, hold onto some of those faces and names. It is a fitting reminder that even in a news business where the past is no longer the prologue, what will always endure is the willingness of journalists to risk their lives in the pursuit of news. And if a museum has a power to connect the past to an uncertain future, it is worth the $19.95 plus tax, and then some.

-- Raju Narisetti, managing editor

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