Where the News is News
by Fyllis Hockman
ou're a photographer for a big city newspaper, with the chance of a
front page photo. Would you change an image to make it more dramatic?
Intervene in the photo? Alter the truth? This is one of several ethics
questions faced by real newspeople posed by one of the many interactive
exhibits at the new Newseum, recently reopened in Washington, DC after
a hiatus of six years.
The Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo
courtesy of The Newseum.
Cited as a "technological marvel," the Newseum
presents five centuries of news history over 7 floors, 14 galleries,
15 theaters and 130 hands-on exhibits with the focus on the story behind
the stories, where how news is made and how it is reported is itself
the big news.
Try your hand at being a reporter. There's a big story
breaking at the circus. During an animal rights protest, someone let
all the animals out of their cages. A protest leader is being held for
questioning. You know what happened, when and where. Your assignment
is to find out who did it, how and why. And you need to file the story
before the competition.
You decide who to question and what questions to ask.
You negotiate between opinion, fact and spin. After interviewing a protester,
police officer, circus owner, and several members of the circus, I determined
that the clown had a definite motive and was indeed the culprit. I came
away with a new respect for how hard it is not only to get the story,
but to get it right. But alas, I picked the wrong headline to accompany
it. Good thing I'm actually a journalist and not an editor!
Inside Tim Russert's Meet the Press office. Photo
courtesy of The Newseum.
Those who dream of working in front of the camera may
be videotaped reporting a late-breaking story from the White House,
Supreme Court or Newseum. Read from a teleprompter or speak extemporaneously,
just like the pros. You even get to practice a bit before "reporting
live." Once home, you can download a video of your TV debut from
the Newseum website.
Bothered by ethics issues and the media? Explore a series
of questions -- Should the Unabomber Manifesto have been published?
Was it more important to protect Arthur Ashe's privacy or to disclose
he had AIDS? Is it okay to sneak prohibited items thru airport security
for a story? No right or wrong here -- usually -- just the everyday
moral dilemmas that journalists face all the time. You make the call
-- and then see how you fare against the general public as well as journalists.
The discrepancy was not as great as I would have thought but the news
reporters, not surprisingly, are a tad more likely to bend the truth.
Unabomber Cabin. Photo courtesy of
But the Newseum is not just about news; it's about life.
This is the first real-time museum where what is happening is what is
happening. It honors the past and celebrates the present. For the older
generation, it's their history. For the younger, it's their future.
Elvis! His Groundbreaking, hip-shaking, newsmaking
Photo courtesy of The Newseum.
Where were you when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon?
When Kennedy was shot? When you first heard about the Oklahoma bombing?
These very public moments become very private memories.
You're not just watching history, you're re-living it.
Seeing the actual Berlin Wall brings that era alive in a palpable way
no news story can. Viewing part of the severely melted and mangled antenna
from one of the towers demolished on 9/11 causes a visceral reaction
you didn't think you were still capable of.
Part of Berlin Wall Gallery. Photo
courtesy of The Newseum.
As Irving Black from Rangeley, ME observed: "At
most museums you just stand and look at pictures or things. Here, you're
an integral part of the experience."
The display of every Pulitzer Prize-winning photo since
the award was first presented in 1942 is reason enough to visit the
Newseum. Some may be images you've seen over time; others you've never
seen before but which now may take up permanent residence in your mind's
eye. "No matter how hard it is to look at these images, we find
it even harder to look away," reads one of the many truths splattered
upon Newseum walls. But as many photos are joyous and life affirming
as are disturbing or unsettling.
Part of the Sport's Illustrated Photography exhibit
of Walter Looss. Photo courtesy
of The Newseum.
But if you need some comic relief, check out the bathrooms
-- and be prepared to spend an even longer time in there than usual.
Since newspapers often qualify as bathroom reading, I was not surprised
to find the walls -- and stalls -- in the Newseum restrooms graffitied
with amusing headlines. Among my favorite bathroom bloopers: "He
Found God at End of His Rope," "Never Withhold Herpes Infection
From Loved One," and "Dishonesty Policy Voted in By Senate."
You just may be tempted to hit the bathrooms on every floor.
Of course, the history of news dissemination itself
is traced from smoke signals and drumbeats through the high-tech promises
of the next millennium. Among items on display in the News History Gallery
are a printed version of Columbus' letter to Queen Isabella discussing
the New World he'd just discovered; Thomas Paine's writing kit and a
1792 edition of his Common Sense pamphlet; a page from the original
Gutenberg Bible; Mark Twain's pipe, and Ernie Pyle's typewriter.
Heather Helten, an 8th-grader visiting from LA, not
surprisingly pronounced the experience "Awesome!" "I've
never seen anything like it. I've learned things I've never known before
like about the Holocaust and O.J. Simpson and the KKK. It's like a huge
At the 4-D movie, which is much more intense than your
usual IMAX, I felt I was actually in the film. I was gliding through
a printing press like a sheet of newsprint. When a pitcher of water
overflowed, I got wet. And I was pretty sure when a rat fled across
the screen, it brushed against my leg. The screams emanating from the
audience indicated others did, too.
To bring history even more alive, visitors relive the
world's greatest hits through a vivid multi-media experience that combines
video, original headlines, photos and broadcasts. Remember Edward R.
Murrow's immortal "You are There" series? Well, you can be
Real-time happenings from around the world are displayed
on a 40' x 22' hi-def screen, while their printed equivalents are recorded
on the front pages of more than 80 newspapers. Check out how the same
events are depicted differently, depending upon the emphasis or bias
of particular newspapers.
911 Round-the-World Coverage. Photo
courtesy of The Newseum.
As to journalistic foibles and faux pas, exhibits and
videos interspersed throughout the Newseum hold the media accountable
for stories written in error, whether inadvertently or intentional.
The good news is there's so much to see; the bad news
is there's so much to see. The museum is massive. Like a big-city Sunday
newspaper, it takes a lot of time to get through it all. After checking
out the orientation film, start at the top and spiral your way down.
That is if you can tear yourself aware from the spectacular real-life
view of the Capitol.
Like all museum tours, you end up in the gift shop.
Think of it as finishing up with the funnies. Who can resist a coffee
mug that reads "I Love the Smell of Newsprint in the Morning,"
a button that warns "Not tonight, dear, I have a deadline,"
a 9-piece plastic "paparazzi" playset or cufflinks and earrings
made from antique typewriter keys.
The Newseum is fun, educational and personally relevant.
Visitors come away with a new respect for what goes into making and
distributing news and a better understanding of why it's not perfect.
And bear in mind: "If You Don't Want It Printed, Don't Let It Happen"
(Aspen Daily News).
The Newseum, located at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, is
open 9-5 daily; adults, $22; children (7-12), $13 and seniors, $18.
For more information, visit newseum.org
or call 888/NEWSEUM.