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A Museum for News Junkies
And the People Who Love Them

By Hilary Mackenzie
Special to
Friday, April 18, 1997

You are a reporter for the Daily Miracle. You get a tip that children at a local elementary school have fallen ill, and the source of the problem was bad cheese served in the school cafeteria. What's more, the supplier of the cheese may have some other shady business dealings going on.

What do you do?

At the area's newest museum, the $50 million, 72,000-square-foot Newseum, which opens Friday in Arlington, you can slip on a virtual press badge and play reporter. Or play editor. Or play anchor. Or just play. What you can also do, if the creators of the world's first interactive museum of news have their way, is learn how and why news is made.

The Newseum is the brainchild of the Arlington-based Freedom Forum, a foundation dedicated to free press and free speech issues worldwide. Using up-to-the-minute interactive displays, discussions with prominent journalists and an extensive collection of reporting tools that span the ages, the Newseum's curators take you beyond the day's screaming headlines and news soundbites to the core of what makes news news and how and why journalists make the decisions they make.

"It's our hope that this museum will help journalists and the public to have a greater understanding of each other," said Freedom Forum Chairman Allen Neuharth, who founded USA Today.

The opening of the Newseum comes at a time when public perception of the media is at an all-time low. Americans not only do not trust the press, but think journalists spend too much time digging up dirt on people, hyping sensational stories and touting their own opinions.

By designing a place where the public and journalists can mingle and talk to one another, the Newseum aims to bridge the widening gulf between the media and the public that they serve.

"Without a free and fair press, democracy is impossible," Neuharth said. "And, the Newseum lets the public get a greater appreciation of the First Amendment."

It also gives the public a greater appreciation of the fun of being a journalist.

In the interactive newsroom you can pace your patter against ABC's Peter Jennings or CBS's Dan Rather and be a TV news anchor. And you thought Jennings was just another overpaid, celebrity journalist, huh?

Or, you can pit your pithy baseball commentary against famed Yankees' sportscaster Mel Allen. "How 'bout that," as Allen would say when a player made a great play or hit a homerun.

You can appear on the cover of Time or Newsweek magazines, investigate a story that has broken somewhere in the country or edit a front page through interactive computer exhibits and roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on games.

"We want people to have fun and learn at the same time," says Peter Prichard, former editor of USA Today and the Newseum's executive director. "We want to get people to feel what it's like to be a journalist, an investigative reporter."

Sense the excitement and the tension of breaking news as it happens when you walk by the 126-foot-long Video News Wall. Every few seconds millions of words, soundbites and pictures flash around the world -- the pulsating flow of events, issues and ideas that journalists shape into our picture of the world.

Challenge yourself in the ethical interactive area on real-life questions. Should the media have exposed the fact that Arthur Ashe had AIDS? Should bodies have been moved during the Civil War to make a more compelling photograph?

Was the press wrong to finger Richard Jewell in the Atlanta bombing case, only to learn later that he was innocent? Should Franklin D. Roosevelt have been photographed against his wishes in a wheelchair?

[Click here to try your hand at solving some of the ethical dilemmas that journalists have recently faced.]

"Americans increasingly spend their time in pursuit of fictional thrills," said Ralph Appelbaum, Newseum's architect and designer. "The Newseum is an encounter with the real, with reality and the joys of learning in a public environment."

Interview journalists of our time about the risks they run covering wars, uncovering skulduggery and getting the scoops that have won them Pulitzer Prizes. Ask CNN's Peter Arnett why he hones in like a guided missile on war, from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf and to Bosnia. Find out Ben Bradlee's greatest moment as editor of the Washington Post.

Then, step back in time and relive the great moments of news history through multimedia exhibits, artifacts like African drums and cuneiform tablets that herald the earliest forms of oral and written communication, and an impressive display of historic newsbooks and broadcasts.

[Click here for a brief sample of what you will hear about journalism history on a walking tour of the Newseum.]

See "Common Sense" author Thomas Paine's worn leather writing case — which held documents from the Continental Congress and was early evidence of the tie between journalists and revolutionary politicians.

Have a laugh at the "epoch of the hoax" — a time when, rather than report the facts, journalists entertained readers with stories about life on Mars.

Walk by the word "news" in 50 languages and take a break in the News Byte Cafe, where you can call up selected online news services and surf the Web.

Before you leave, check out the washrooms! On the doors are the great news bloopers. Headlines that declared: "Dishonesty policy voted in the senate." "Drunk gets nine months in violin case." "He found God at the end of his rope." "Beheading can cause kids stress." Oh, yes they were all printed!

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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