So What's the Story? News Museum Hopes Crowds Care to Find Out

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein. This week on our program, we take a look at Washington's newly opened museum of news, the Newseum.


"There's a big story breaking at the circus but nobody seems to know what's going on. [Animal sounds.] O.K., rookie, it's your job to get the story and scoop the competition. We know what happened, when and where. You need to find out who did it, how and why. Ask questions, get the facts and file the story with this P.D.A. as soon as you can. Now get going."

So begins one of the many interactive games at the Newseum in Washington. This game, "Be a Reporter," is played on a small screen in the Interactive Newsroom and Ethics Center.

This area of the Newseum also includes an activity called "Be a TV Reporter." For an extra eight dollars, visitors can read the news in front of a camera. Afterward, they receive a picture of themselves and instructions about how to download a video of their performance.


The Newseum opened on Pennsylvania Avenue, next to the Canadian Embassy, on April eleventh. It was formerly located across the Potomac River from Washington. The Newseum opened in Arlington, Virginia, in nineteen ninety-seven. But it closed in two thousand two after a decision to move to a bigger space.

The newly built museum has fourteen galleries, fifteen theaters and sixteen zillion video screens.

One of the galleries is the Berlin Wall Gallery. It tells the story of the four meter high concrete wall built in nineteen sixty-one. Communist East Germany built the wall to separate itself from democratic West Germany. The wall was torn down, and the two Germanies reunited, in nineteen eighty-nine.

The gallery contains eight pieces of the Berlin Wall. It also includes a watch tower that stood not far from the "Checkpoint Charlie" crossing between east and west Berlin.

Three large screens in the gallery show three different movies about the history of news reporting on the Berlin Wall.

Another gallery tells the story of the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September eleventh, two thousand one.

The nine-eleven gallery explores how the media covered the story of the attacks that killed almost three thousand people.

SOUND: "The building is falling right now. People are running through the streets. Smoke is everywhere. People are filling all of Broadway."

The Twin Towers, New York's tallest buildings, collapsed after being struck by hijacked passenger planes.

In the center of the gallery is a burned and twisted part of the broadcast antenna that stood on the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Also in the gallery is a damaged piece of the Pentagon, the Defense Department headquarters, which was also struck by a plane. And there is a piece of the fourth plane used in the attacks. Investigators found that the hijackers of United Flight Ninety-three crashed the plane in a Pennsylvania field after passengers revolted.

The gallery also has items from news photographer William Biggart. He was covering the attacks in New York City when the second tower collapsed and he was killed.

On the wall of the gallery are front pages from one hundred twenty-seven newspapers reporting the attacks. The newspapers are from across the United States and thirty-four other nations.


The Newseum has a newspaper gallery that changes daily. Copies of front pages are received electronically from more than five hundred newspapers around the world. Eighty are printed for display. The others can be seen on touch screens.

A nearby gallery displays thousands of historic publications. The oldest is a clay brick from more than three thousand years ago. The brick has cuneiform writing on it. The symbols tell about the building of a chapel in a temple of a Sumerian king.

Also in the Early News Gallery are reports on the Battle of Agincourt and the Salem witch trials. The battle took place in France in fourteen fifteen; the handwritten news report appeared the following year. The Salem witch trials took place in Massachusetts in sixteen ninety-two.

The gallery describes the many ways news traveled before and after the arrival of the printing press in the fifteenth century. Included in the collection is a nineteenth century West African harp. It was played by musicians who sang about current events and spread gossip.

Among the displays about the history of news is one called "Can the Press Be Trusted?" It has examples of stories that were invented by reporters or told only one side of an issue. The display also deals with the use of unidentified sources, and the risk of mistakes when reporters try to be first with a story.

Another gallery at the Newseum presents photographs that have won Pulitzer Prizes. The display also includes recorded comments from some of the prize-winning photographers.

And the Newseum has a gallery to honor journalists who were killed doing their jobs. Glass panels in the Memorial Gallery list more than one thousand eight hundred names.

An independent group, the Freedom Forum, operates the Newseum. The group spent one hundred million dollars to buy the land and four hundred fifty million dollars to build the new museum.

The Freedom Forum teaches people about the importance of free speech and a free press. On the outside of the Newseum are the words of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

READER: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Inside the Newseum, a huge screen presents political and religious leaders, entertainers and reporters talking about those freedoms. Here is civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior:

MARTIN LUTHER KING: "But somewhere I read… of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read… of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read… of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights."


Reporters received a media tour of the Newseum before opening day. One reporter called newspapers a dying industry and asked the chief executive officer, Charles Overby, why the Newseum gives them so much attention. The C.E.O. said the Newseum is about news and the changing delivery systems for reporting it.

The Newseum has a large gallery dealing with news in the digital age, including blogging and social networking sites. But the Internet, TV and Radio Gallery also presents broadcasts from the past.

One area of the gallery explores "instant news reporting," sometimes called citizen journalism. The display includes comments from Virginia Tech graduate student Jamal Albarghouti. With his cell phone camera, he recorded nearby sounds of gunfire as a student killed thirty-two people last April sixteenth.

JAMAL ALBARGHOUTI: "I had no idea what the reaction would be when I downloaded this to CNN. I was just hoping no one would get very angry seeing it, and thank God that was the case and many people came to me and telling me thanks a lot. I didn't think I was in a great danger. If I was in such a situation once again, probably I'll do the same thing."

Concerns about instant news are also discussed at the Newseum. Here are comments from a newspaper editor at the Roanoke Times in Virginia:

EDITOR: "We are trained professional journalists and we are going to be very cautious about what we put online because once it's in the paper you can't take it back. Ya know bloggers, maybe sometimes they don't realize that, that little thought that just pops into their head, and they post it, and millions of people can see it online, and it can damage somebody's reputation.  It can say somebody, ya know, he's the guy, he's the shooter, ah, you can't take that back."


The newly opened Newseum in Washington, D.C., charges as much as twenty dollars for admission. Children six and younger are free. The nearby Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery of Art are free to all visitors. But Newseum officials note that those museums are publicly supported.

Almost eleven thousand people toured the Newseum on opening day when admission was free. The Newseum calls itself the world's most interactive museum. But some people wondered how a pricey museum will succeed, especially in difficult economic times, in a city with so many free attractions.

The president of the Newseum, Peter Pritchard, says the hunger for news and information has never been greater around the world.

Chief executive Charles Overby says the Freedom Forum believes the Newseum is where it belongs, among monuments to freedom. During the media tour, he was asked how this museum of news will compete with the Smithsonian museums. "We're not out to harm the Smithsonian," he said. "We just want a bit of people's time."


Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.