New-look Newseum prepares to open its doors

The world’s largest collection of journalistic memorabilia, reopens in Washington this Friday. The Newseum, which closed six years ago, has been completely redesigned and rebuilt, at a cost of $450m (£225m).

It’s now located in the middle of Washington, instead of in a remote suburb. It fills seven floors and has 14 galleries, one of which recounts thousands of years of newsgathering.

There are also l5 theatres, two television studios, numerous walls decorated with the front pages of hundreds of daily papers from around the world (changed daily) and thousands of prize-winning photographs.

The Newseum also holds such historic journalistic items as the bullet-riddled van used by Time reporters and photographers during the siege at Sarajevo in 1990 – and even the pencil of the reporter killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn, which was Custer’s Last Stand in 1876.

In one theatre, replaying moments of journalistic history, visitors can sit in a chair which shakes, and is blown by the wind – recreating the time when Edward R Murrow from a rooftop overlooking St Paul’s broadcast to America as London was being bombed.

The Newseum chief executive, Charles Overby, unashamedly describes the project as a cross between The Smithsonian and Disney World.

The first thing that greets visitors, who now have to pay $20 to get in (about the same as the entrance fee to Madame Tussaud’s) is a 50-tonne marble tablet etched with the words of the First Amendment, which is the part  of the American Bill of Rights that has protected the American press for more than 200 years.

But there is also lots of razzle-dazzle, too. The attractions include booths, in which visitors can pretend to be a TV reporter, step in front of a camera, read the news from a teleprompter and take home a copy of their TV news debut.

For the leg-weary, there is even a restaurant, boasting 2,000 bottles of win, plus a shop selling copies of famous news pictures.

Already there have been more than 50,000 advance bookings for admission tickets, which suggests the new museum is likely to become  one of Washington’s biggest attractions.

Not that the new museum has not provoked some criticism. Especially over its cost, particularly at a time when the media is going through such hard times.

One writer, Jack Shafer, in the online magazine Slate, which is owned by The Washington Post, described the new museum as a ‘gilded disaster’and asked: ‘How all this advances the craft of journalism, I have no idea. Better that the $450m had been used to endow a newspaper.”

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