The First Amendment is etched in marble on the front of the newly-constructed Newseum building. For the journalism museum’s staff and visitors, it is a testament to why the press still matters in an era of steep decline in circulation and staff cuts.
Located on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol, the Newseum is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated only to journalism. It moved from its former location in Arlington, Va., in 2002, only to be reincarnated as a $450 million building in the heart of the District.
The doors will open to the public on April 11 with special free admission all day. Admission is typically $20.
“I am thrilled beyond belief,” said Susan Bennett, deputy director of the museum. “We’re so excited. We cannot wait to open those doors and just have everybody else sharing this.”
The museum is almost three times larger than the original, and is made up of seven levels containing 15 theaters and 14 main exhibition galleries. Two mainstay features will be exhibits dedicated to Sept. 11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Mark Feldstein, a GW journalism professor, said the museum represents a significant landmark for the press.
“It will help perhaps remind the public about the long history of free expression in this country and why, even if it’s sometimes messy, journalism is important in this society,” Feldstein said.
Interactive sites will be placed all over the museum, giving visitors a taste of what it is like to be a reporter or photographer. In one future exhibit, visitors will be able to see a reenactment of a river rescue and choose which photograph should be used on the front page. Their choice will then be critiqued by a photo editor from The New York Times.
More than 500 front pages from around the world can be accessed on the organization’s Web site on a daily basis and up to 40 front pages a day are printed and displayed in glass cases lining the outside of the museum.
The museum will not only inform patrons about journalism’s past, but might also represent something else for today’s journalists.
“It also tells people about what makes news: it’s love, it’s war, it’s peace, it’s hatred, it’s fun,” Bennett said. “And we try to talk about the warts of journalism. We don’t want to just pretend that every journalist is an idealist. We talk about how and why mistakes are made by journalists and by the media.”
There will also be a journalists memorial that will include the more than 1,800 names of journalists dating back to 1837, who have died while reporting the news.
Lee Huebner, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, wrote in an e-mail that journalists and college students will both benefit from the new addition to the District.
He said, “The Newseum will be a great plus for the world of journalism in general, and for GW and its students in particular.”