A Place With the Inside Story on News
The capital's Newseum offers the public a chance to understand how the media work
The video news wall in the capital's Newseum isn't supposed to speak with one voice - the whole idea of showing simultaneous video feeds from all over the world is to show visitors the great diversity in the world's sense of news.Skip to next paragraph
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But on Friday, Sept. 5, at 1 p.m. Eastern daylight time, only one thing counted as news: Queen Elizabeth II's live television broadcast on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Visitors to the world's first interactive museum of news broke away from playing news games on touch-screen computer terminals to listen to the queen's words. Such a live address was rare for the British monarch, but even more rare for the Newseum, for it marked the first time since the museum's April 18 opening that all nine panels on its 126-foot-long video news wall carried the same image and sound.
The moment signaled how quickly world reaction to the death of the popular princess was shaping up as a remarkable news event. And real-life news professionals soon found themselves both covering the event and defending against charges that the press had had a hand in creating it.
News photographers and paparazzi regularly reduced Diana to "tearful despair," her brother Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer, told mourners in London's Westminster Abbey on Sept. 6. "She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment she received at the hands of the newspapers," he said.
Such public concerns were a leading reason for developing an interactive news museum in the first place, say Newseum officials.
"We are not apologists for the news media, but we want people to understand this news product that they are consuming a little better," says Joe Urschel, the Newseum's executive director.
We know, he says, that what the public most resents about news coverage are intrusions on a person's privacy - such as photographers chasing people on motorcycles.
"One of the biggest public misconceptions is that the news media are one thing. In fact, the media include White House reporters and photographers, paparazzi in France, kids in college covering baseball games, and multiple PhDs writing op-ed pieces - all with different codes of ethics and behavior. It's easy to pick out what's worst in all of them and focus on that as something to hate.
"The paparazzi is not a club you join. People who wind up on such assignments may have just come back from covering a fire or a war in a foreign country," he adds.
The $50 million Newseum is funded and operated by The Freedom Forum, an international foundation dedicated to free speech and a free press. Before the Newseum opened, consultants estimated that a visit would take about 90 minutes. In fact, visits are averaging from two to three hours.
Under the video wall, visitors can scan the headlines and front pages of some 70 daily newspapers around the world.
In the interactive newsroom, touch-screen computer stations help visitors learn to think like an editor or an investigative journalist and to understand the constraints of the job. (Small criticism: The food in the Newseum's snack bar or New Byte Caf is too good. If you want authenticity, try eating out of vending machines.)