The world’s biggest and newest museum devoted exclusively to news and news coverage is about to open in Washington. Located midway between The White House and The Capitol it replaces the older much smaller Newsmuseum, close to the Washington Press Club, which closed six years ago.
Workers are still in the new museum, which has cost almost $450 million – making it one of the most expensive museums ever built. It is scheduled to open in October. The facade is dominated by what’s been described a real show-stopper – a six ton, 74 ft high slab of marble engraved with the First Amendment to the American Constitution, the one guaranteeing freedom of speech. Visitors will enter through what is called The Great Hall of News where they can see breaking stories on a giant news “zipper” – bigger than the famous one on New York’s Times Square.
That’s the beginning of a more than mile long display which include sections where visitors can tape themselves doing stand-up broadcasts just as if they were outside the White House. They can pretend to be weather forecasters. And areas where they can test their knowledge of the history of the Press and what it means in a modern society.
The new museum will also include such artifacts as the lap-top Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was using in Pakistan when he was kidnapped and murdered, the protective vest ABC reporter Bob Woodruff was wearing when he was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. And one of the biggest exhibits, an armoured truck used by Time magazine in the Balkans pockmarked with bullet holes. There is even – in contrast – the pencil used by a reporter killed at Little Bighorn with General Custer in 1876. All stark reminders of the perils newsmen face these days – and in the past.
From World War 2 the museum has the microphone that newsman Ed Murrow used in his roof-top broadcasts at the height of the London blitz. The most recent acquisition, by comparison, is the cell-phone camera that a student used to record some of the compelling scenes at the recent massacre at Virginia Tech.
The cost of the new museum is being largely borne by some big US news companies, including the New York Times and Murdoch’s News Corp both of which have donated $10 million dollars. There has nevertheless been questions aired as to whether in this day and age a museum devoted to news and how news is covered is quite appropriate. It is conceded that one of the museum’s biggest problems will be attracting visitors at a time when the public’s respect of the media is on the decline.
One museum executive Charles Overby, of the Freedom Foundation, one of the organizations that has underwritten the cost of the new museum, conceded that 40 per cent of the American public believes the press these days has too much freedom. But one of the museum’s missions, he added, will be to educate the public. The museum, he added, is not meant to be a monument to the press, but to its freedom.
Its main theme will be that news is the first draft of history.