ARLINGTON, Va. — Watch world events unfold on dozens of satellite news feeds. Play ace reporter for a day. Have a peek at Walter Cronkite’s cameras.
Those will all be among the experiences possible in April 1997, when the Freedom Forum will open what its officials say is a first among museums: a “Newseum.”
The project, now under construction, will tell a story that plays a big part in the lives of people the world over: the story of the news.
The Newseum will occupy four stories of the Freedom Forum World Center, across a wide boulevard from the Gannett Co. Inc. headquarters. Just its shell has been built. The rest exists only as a scale model in a conference room.
But once completed, the $42 million, 72,000-square-foot project will offer a “better understanding of how the media works … how journalists make decisions … a feel for the pressures journalists are under,” said Peter S. Prichard, the Newseum’s executive director and former editor of USA Today.
That understanding will be delivered through the latest in technology and interactive multimedia displays, World Wide Web interfaces to browse the Internet and computers that allow users to ask journalists questions.
Promotional materials suggest the Newseum will present a truly global experience. With news pouring in from all over the world, news hounds and casual visitors alike will see how and why different papers cover an event a certain way.
Visits will start in the expansive dome for a 15-minute film by Charles Guggenheim about the history of the news and an introduction to the museum.
The theater will have 220 seats and what Newseum officials said would be the largest high-definition video screen in the national capital area.
Next, in a room called the Prologue, 2,000 nameplates of newspapers will appear on a gigantic sphere, with an electronic board flashing the world’s latest headlines.
Replicas of Chinese news sheets from the 8th century will offer an early example of how news was disseminated. It remains a mystery who read these early works, but they are estimated to be dated 889 years before the first European newspapers, said Beth Tuttle, director of marketing and communications for the project.
Also on view will be actual Sumerian news tablets from the Sumer area around modern Iraq. Dating to 2000 B.C., they record a king’s announcement of a new irrigation system providing the city of Ur with sweet water.
Eric Newton, managing editor of the Newseum said, “We looked specifically for Sumerian tablets for the specific types of stories that we think of as news today.”
Later artifacts will include a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1943, a model 1 Linotype machine used for setting type, the microphone Edward R. Murrow used to cover the bombing of London in World War II, a reporter’s flack jacket worn during the Bosnian conflict and the Cronkite cameras.
Another feature, a documentary film, will show the portrayal of journalists in Hollywood.
Visitors also will travel through time with a visual news history wall that asks questions of onlookers: If you read it, is it so? Whose news is it? Is the news biased?
People will “leave with a whole new thought process,” said Marisa Hall, an education specialist for the Newseum.
Adding to the interactivity of the whole place will be a state-of-the-art broadcast studio, featuring television and radio programs. Visitors can watch and interact with live programs, preform as reporters, or, with the help of computers, write news stories and even give a videotaped weather report.
Eating also will be high-tech. Not only will the news cafe serve sandwiches, it will put the Internet on a platter. As visitors eat, they will be able to connect to a news interface with the news of the world.
The Newseum was born in brainstorming sessions held as the Gannett Foundation reorganized into the Freedom Forum, the sole source of the project’s funding, Newseum officials said.
The Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation, will not charge admission to the Newseum. And though eager visitors will have to wait until April to view its treasures, information is now available online at http://www.freedomforum.org/FreedomFourm/newseum/welcome.html -30-