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First Amendment Finds New Home

On Oct. 15, 2007, the Newseum will reopen just steps from the U.S. Capitol as part of a 650,000-square-foot colossus of apartments, retail space and a museum just steps from the Capitol Building.

The new Newseum—the old, Arlington, Va.-based museum closed five years ago—will feature interactive kiosks, touch-screen timelines, 100 miles of fiber-optic cable, the First Amendment etched in stone, numerous galleries and state-of-the-art HD studios to help tell the history, and look into the future of newsgathering.

Jack Hurley, deputy director/senior VP, broadcasting, for the Newseum and its backer, the Freedom Forum, sees the museum as an opportunity to celebrate newsgathering and its history but also a chance to see it "warts and all."

Hurley has been with the museum 14 years and before that spent a dozen years with Gannett, including at WUSA Washington. He was also news director, editorial director, and anchor/reporter at WHIO Dayton, Ohio.

On the eve of announcing a new sponsor—Cox has ponied up $6 million to put its name on the First Amendment gallery—and the reopening date, Hurley talked with B&C's John Eggerton about all the news that's fit to commemorate, including his "shock" that the TV and Internet gallery has no sponsor.

Let's say I'm a news director in town for a visit. What is in this museum for me?

There is a full gallery dedicated to electronic news, from the earliest radio broadcasts all the way up to television and the Internet. There is also a timeline that marks all of the significant developments both in technology and news events. Clips of the first radio news broadcast, from television and newsreels, all in a touchscreen format.

There is a two-story theater that seats about 70 people that will feature stories about the rise of television news and cable and the Internet. Then there is a digital news gallery that will feature technological developments in the Internet as related to news, everything from technology to bloggers and cellphone video, including the London bombing and how that changed the use of cellphones [in newsgathering].

We also have two high-definition television studios. The main one seats about 125 people for, say, a town-hall meeting. It's an eight-camera, all-digital HD studio. And we have a studio on the third floor with a view of the Capitol that can be used as a backdrop for smaller programs like stand-ups or one-on-ones.

What about the general public?

We are convinced [students] will learn a lot. They will also have a lot of fun with our interactives and films. We are confident they will leave and create a great buzz among their peers. That will be good for the First Amendment, the news media and a free press.

You should come out with an appreciation of how hard it is to do a good job in news. I want you to understand that everything you see and read you need to think about and do your own research.

We have three principal goals. We honor the sacrifices made by journalists, including those who have died covering news. We hope people leave with a little better appreciation of the importance of a free press in a democratic society. And we also dwell quite heavily on the flaws of the media: the pitfalls of anonymous sources, bias in the news, and how mistakes are made. Sometimes they are caused by deadline pressure and mistakes and sometimes by plagiarism and outright lying.

It's not all a shrine to news and journalism. It covers them warts and all, and we all know there are a lot of warts.

A number of media companies—NBC, News Corp., most recently Cox—have ponied up big bucks for naming rights.

Yes, there are naming rights to a number of [galleries], but there are no naming rights yet for the Internet TV and radio gallery, which is one of our most dramatic galleries.

Are you surprised?

I'm shocked. We think that when we get closer to opening, when they see how dramatic it is, a two-story theater. On the outside are forty-eight 32-inch televisions showing historic news footage. It's a marvelous gallery and one that we, frankly, thought would be one of the first ones that people would be interested in.

How much does it cost to put your name on a gallery?

Minimum entry fee is $5 million.

Any concern about having media companies sponsoring a "warts-and-all" museum about the media?

The indisputable fact is that the vast majority of our content was completed before our first donor came forth. There are no instances where we were asked by a founding partner to alter, add or subtract any content. The founding partners will tell their own stories on the donor panels and in multimedia kiosks in the galleries. We developed our content for more than five years before the first partner came on board. It is done and gone to the fabricators.

From the very beginning, our research and editorial staffs have had complete and absolute editorial control. We have pulled no punches on the flaws of the press or the misdeeds of a number of individuals or organizations. It's the only way we can maintain our credibility.

How long has it been since the Newseum closed, and why didn't you keep it open while you were building the new one?

It closed in March 2002. We had a lot of sentiment and pressure from the board to keep it open, but being the news people that we are, we determined that we would be so distracted trying to run a first-class operation while we need to be focusing on the content and development of the new one that we wouldn't have been able to give it the attention it needed. And we probably would have had to ad 40% more staff.

What news artifacts have you unearthed?

We have Conus 1, the first satellite newsgathering truck; a Time magazine armored pickup used by news photographers in Bosnia and Sarajevo that is riddled with shrapnel; a section of the Berlin Wall, including a guard tower. I think it will be the most media-rich museum experience in the world.

Speaking of walls, the First Amendment will play a big role, literally, right?

On the front of the building is a 74-foot high by 22-foot wall of Tennessee marble on which is engraved the 45 words of the First Amendment.

Who proofread it?

About 600 people, literally. You can't screw this up because it is in roughly 4- by 3-foot blocks of Tennessee marble the same color as the National Gallery [across the street]. And next to the First Amendment is a huge window—the Window on the World—through which you can see a 40-foot by 22-foot HD LCD screen.

And the symbolism of that large glass wall is ...?


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