Interactive Newseum tells story of journalism

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tourists who visit the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court will soon be able to learn about what some people call the fourth branch of government — journalism — at a high-tech and fun museum about news.
The Newseum, which bills itself as the world’s first museum about the history and practice of journalism, will give visitors a chance to play reporter, editor or television newscaster in an interactive newsroom and a TV studio.
Daily displays of front pages from 50 American newspapers, audio and video feeds from radio and TV newscasts worldwide will tell the story of how journalists gather and report the news of the day.
“This will be a wonderful place to see how a big story happens,” executive director Peter S. Prichard said Wednesday as he led reporters on a tour of the $50 million museum, which is still under construction in Arlington, Va. “We hope people leave with a better understanding of journalism and a little more enthusiasm for the First Amendment.”
Artifacts, such as a cuneiform tablet from ancient Sumeria, a 15th century Gutenberg Bible and a linotype machine, will trace the history of news gathering from ancient times.
The shovel that war correspondent Ernie Pyle used to dig foxholes will be on display.
So will the camera news photographer Tom Howard strapped to his ankle to surreptitiously record the 1928 execution of Ruth Snyder — the first woman to die in an electric chair.
The picture of Snyder in the electric chair, which will also be displayed, ran under the headline “Dead!” in the New York Daily News.
When the big story breaks, visitors will be able to read wire-service bulletins, listen to radio reports and watch TV coverage.
Visitors will also get a chance to play reporter via an interactive computer screen.
The news editor at the Daily Miracle assigns the reporter to chase a tip that kids at a local school were made sick by tainted cheese served in the cafeteria. The computer screen lets visitors choose whom to interview, what questions to ask and when to file the story. If you file too soon, the editor will yell at you for missing key facts or you could be sued for libel.
On another computer terminal, Washington Post investigative ace Bob Woodward talks about how he got started on a career capped by his reporting on the Watergate scandal.
Ever the snoop, Woodward recalls working as a janitor in his father’s law office in Wheaton, Ill., when he was in high school. “I’d look at the papers on my father’s desk.” The papers contained many secrets concealed by “false fronts” presented by Wheaton residents. “This made me very curious about people’s secrets.”
Another computer terminal lets visitors wrestle with the ethical questions that face journalists: whether to print the names of rape victims, whether to publish the Unabomber’s manifesto to help the FBI crack the case, whether to pursue the tip that Arthur Ashe was dying of AIDS.
How these real-life dilemmas were resolved will be presented along with polling data showing how visitors and journalists think news organizations should have dealt with them.
The goal?
“We hope that the museum will help the press and the public better understand each other,” said Allen H. Neuharth, president of The Freedom Forum, and former chairman of Gannett Co. Inc., the nation’s largest newspaper group.