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Fyllis: The Newseum
The Newseum:
Where the News is News

by Fyllis Hockman

ou're a photographer for a big city newspaper, with the chance of a front page photo. Would you change an image to make it more dramatic? Intervene in the photo? Alter the truth? This is one of several ethics questions faced by real newspeople posed by one of the many interactive exhibits at the new Newseum, recently reopened in Washington, DC after a hiatus of six years.

the Newseum on Pennsylvania Ave., Washington D.C.
The Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo courtesy of The Newseum.

Cited as a "technological marvel," the Newseum presents five centuries of news history over 7 floors, 14 galleries, 15 theaters and 130 hands-on exhibits with the focus on the story behind the stories, where how news is made and how it is reported is itself the big news.

Try your hand at being a reporter. There's a big story breaking at the circus. During an animal rights protest, someone let all the animals out of their cages. A protest leader is being held for questioning. You know what happened, when and where. Your assignment is to find out who did it, how and why. And you need to file the story before the competition.

You decide who to question and what questions to ask. You negotiate between opinion, fact and spin. After interviewing a protester, police officer, circus owner, and several members of the circus, I determined that the clown had a definite motive and was indeed the culprit. I came away with a new respect for how hard it is not only to get the story, but to get it right. But alas, I picked the wrong headline to accompany it. Good thing I'm actually a journalist and not an editor!

Tim Russert's Meet the Press office, the Newseum
Inside Tim Russert's Meet the Press office. Photo courtesy of The Newseum.

Those who dream of working in front of the camera may be videotaped reporting a late-breaking story from the White House, Supreme Court or Newseum. Read from a teleprompter or speak extemporaneously, just like the pros. You even get to practice a bit before "reporting live." Once home, you can download a video of your TV debut from the Newseum website.

Bothered by ethics issues and the media? Explore a series of questions -- Should the Unabomber Manifesto have been published? Was it more important to protect Arthur Ashe's privacy or to disclose he had AIDS? Is it okay to sneak prohibited items thru airport security for a story? No right or wrong here -- usually -- just the everyday moral dilemmas that journalists face all the time. You make the call -- and then see how you fare against the general public as well as journalists. The discrepancy was not as great as I would have thought but the news reporters, not surprisingly, are a tad more likely to bend the truth.

the Unabomber Cabin, the Newseum
Unabomber Cabin. Photo courtesy of The Newseum.

But the Newseum is not just about news; it's about life. This is the first real-time museum where what is happening is what is happening. It honors the past and celebrates the present. For the older generation, it's their history. For the younger, it's their future.


Elvis! His Groundbreaking, hip-shaking, newsmaking story.
Photo courtesy of The Newseum.

Where were you when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon? When Kennedy was shot? When you first heard about the Oklahoma bombing? These very public moments become very private memories.

You're not just watching history, you're re-living it. Seeing the actual Berlin Wall brings that era alive in a palpable way no news story can. Viewing part of the severely melted and mangled antenna from one of the towers demolished on 9/11 causes a visceral reaction you didn't think you were still capable of.

part of the Berlin Wall Gallery, the Newseum
Part of Berlin Wall Gallery. Photo courtesy of The Newseum.

As Irving Black from Rangeley, ME observed: "At most museums you just stand and look at pictures or things. Here, you're an integral part of the experience."

The display of every Pulitzer Prize-winning photo since the award was first presented in 1942 is reason enough to visit the Newseum. Some may be images you've seen over time; others you've never seen before but which now may take up permanent residence in your mind's eye. "No matter how hard it is to look at these images, we find it even harder to look away," reads one of the many truths splattered upon Newseum walls. But as many photos are joyous and life affirming as are disturbing or unsettling.

Sports Illustrated's photography exhibit of Walter Looss
Part of the Sport's Illustrated Photography exhibit of Walter Looss. Photo courtesy of The Newseum.

But if you need some comic relief, check out the bathrooms -- and be prepared to spend an even longer time in there than usual. Since newspapers often qualify as bathroom reading, I was not surprised to find the walls -- and stalls -- in the Newseum restrooms graffitied with amusing headlines. Among my favorite bathroom bloopers: "He Found God at End of His Rope," "Never Withhold Herpes Infection From Loved One," and "Dishonesty Policy Voted in By Senate." You just may be tempted to hit the bathrooms on every floor.

Of course, the history of news dissemination itself is traced from smoke signals and drumbeats through the high-tech promises of the next millennium. Among items on display in the News History Gallery are a printed version of Columbus' letter to Queen Isabella discussing the New World he'd just discovered; Thomas Paine's writing kit and a 1792 edition of his Common Sense pamphlet; a page from the original Gutenberg Bible; Mark Twain's pipe, and Ernie Pyle's typewriter.

Heather Helten, an 8th-grader visiting from LA, not surprisingly pronounced the experience "Awesome!" "I've never seen anything like it. I've learned things I've never known before like about the Holocaust and O.J. Simpson and the KKK. It's like a huge wake-up call."

At the 4-D movie, which is much more intense than your usual IMAX, I felt I was actually in the film. I was gliding through a printing press like a sheet of newsprint. When a pitcher of water overflowed, I got wet. And I was pretty sure when a rat fled across the screen, it brushed against my leg. The screams emanating from the audience indicated others did, too.

To bring history even more alive, visitors relive the world's greatest hits through a vivid multi-media experience that combines video, original headlines, photos and broadcasts. Remember Edward R. Murrow's immortal "You are There" series? Well, you can be there again!

Real-time happenings from around the world are displayed on a 40' x 22' hi-def screen, while their printed equivalents are recorded on the front pages of more than 80 newspapers. Check out how the same events are depicted differently, depending upon the emphasis or bias of particular newspapers.

melted antenna from one of the 9/11 towers
911 Round-the-World Coverage. Photo courtesy of The Newseum.

As to journalistic foibles and faux pas, exhibits and videos interspersed throughout the Newseum hold the media accountable for stories written in error, whether inadvertently or intentional.

The good news is there's so much to see; the bad news is there's so much to see. The museum is massive. Like a big-city Sunday newspaper, it takes a lot of time to get through it all. After checking out the orientation film, start at the top and spiral your way down. That is if you can tear yourself aware from the spectacular real-life view of the Capitol.

Like all museum tours, you end up in the gift shop. Think of it as finishing up with the funnies. Who can resist a coffee mug that reads "I Love the Smell of Newsprint in the Morning," a button that warns "Not tonight, dear, I have a deadline," a 9-piece plastic "paparazzi" playset or cufflinks and earrings made from antique typewriter keys.

The Newseum is fun, educational and personally relevant. Visitors come away with a new respect for what goes into making and distributing news and a better understanding of why it's not perfect. And bear in mind: "If You Don't Want It Printed, Don't Let It Happen" (Aspen Daily News).

The Newseum, located at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, is open 9-5 daily; adults, $22; children (7-12), $13 and seniors, $18. For more information, visit newseum.org or call 888/NEWSEUM.

(Posted 2-3-2011)



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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!

Fyllis

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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in travelingboy.com about the Garifuna.

Fyllis

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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Fyllis

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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy



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