No News Is Bad News

Newseum Re-Opens After 7- Year Move

On busy Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital, a collection of people gather in front of a row of front pages from newspapers around the country. The pages are individually mounted in glass cases lining the length of the sidewalk. Among the selection, The Washington Post, Idaho Statesman and the New York Times are prominently on displayed. The fascinated on-lookers point, read and stare at the day’s leading stories. They may not know it, but they are some of the first visitors to the Newseum.

The $450 million project was seven years in the making. Originally located just across the Potomac River in neighboring Arlington, Va., the Newseum – the most ambitious effort ever to teach people about the First Amendment – shut its doors in 2002 to focus on the move. Along the way, the project received more than $52 million in donations toward the new location.

Now after more than half a decade of renovation, fundraising and hype the grand re-opening is scheduled for Friday. The festivities will begin at 7 a.m. with a two-hour Newseum block party where the kiddies can get their faces painted, watch jugglers and even participate in a newspaper toss competition. Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Co., Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, and others will offer remarks during the 2 p.m. dedication ceremony.

The Newseum is nestled between the Capitol Building and the White House; the brand new façade sits directly across the street from the National Art Gallery.

Unlike the brick and mortar construction of its competition, the Newseum’s architectural design uses mostly glass, open space and a larger-than-life 74-foot marble plaque engraved with the First Amendment to attract visitors.

“We wanted to build a building that was a metaphor for the free press,” said Charles L. Overby, CEO of the Newseum and Freedom Forum. “So there’s a lot openness and transparency.”

The 250,000-square-foot building has seven levels of high-tech exhibitions, interactive games and Pulitzer Prize-winning photos.

Patrons are encouraged to begin their journey at the very top, taking one of three glass elevators from the concourse to the sixth level where an eye view of the Capitol Building can be seen from the Pennsylvania Avenue terrace.

An exhibit dedicated to the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks displays 127 of the front page stories that related news to the world. Headlines reading “Devastation” from the Baltimore Sun and “America’s Darkest Day” from the Detroit Free Press hang just behind a remnant of the news tower the once stood at the top of the north building of the World Trade Center. The exhibit also shows an 11-minute film documenting what journalists in New York experienced during the attacks.

“People are very touched,” said John Maynard, exhibit writer. “There’s tissues outside the movie theater, which are used. We have to replace those quite frequently. I think people come back here and they remember that day. Who doesn’t remember that day?”

Among the artifacts and collections is a database of more than 1,800 community newspaper, which includes the first African-American publication, the Freedman’s Journal. The journal’s first printed words, “Too long have others spoken for us,” hang in a display case in the news history gallery. Also in the gallery is a tribute to women’s role in the news. “The big stories of our lives are told, I think, very well in this Newseum in a way that the average person can get better insight into it,” Overby said.

The ground level houses a rather high-end food court, catered by Wolfgang Puck, the Berlin Wall exhibit and an interesting exhibit chronicling the evolution of the funny pages (most notably a 1911 comic strip entitled “Sambo and His Funny Noises”).

Admission during the grand opening if free, but tickets will be $20 for adults and $13 for children seven to 13 thereafter.

Though the Newseum may seem to be journalism’s ode to itself, the experience of walking through the stories that help to define our lifetimes may offer some a rewarding experience.

“It’s about the history of journalism, but at the same time, I think this is also a history lesson,” Maynard said. “There’s the news history gallery, which is kind of the story of our lives from way back from the 1600 to modern day.”

“So, it is about journalism, but it’s also about stories that touched our lives. There’s a lot of moments when you’ll see a newspaper headline or a TV clip and say, ‘I remember where I was that day.'”