State Journal-Register

March 23, 2003

A nose for news / Newseum exhibits are accessible while new facility is built

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Visiting Washington soon and want to know what's going on back in Illinois? Grab a cup of coffee and look up a home-state newspaper at the Newseum's "Front Page" display.

Although the Newseum closed last year to make way for a dramatic new building scheduled to be completed in 2006, one of its most popular exhibits is on display in downtown Washington at Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, site of the Newseum's future home.

Visitors to the outdoor exhibit can walk past that day's front-page news coverage from newspapers from each of the 50 states and 17 foreign countries.

Technicians arrive at their offices at 4:30 a.m. to begin downloading and organizing about 200 front pages - including The State Journal-Register - sent to the Newseum via the Internet. Of those, 68 are chosen at random for the street display. Shortly after 7 a.m., workers are posting the pages under a 92-foot-long plexiglass and aluminum frame on Pennsylvania Avenue, said technician Robert Frey.

In warmer weather, tourists and business travelers alike sip their morning coffee and read the headlines from around the world.

Those who can't get to Washington can pull up front pages from around the world through the Newseum's Web site, "Today's Front Pages" is one of the Web site's most popular interactive displays, attracting more than 6,000 visits a day, said Greg Sparrow, executive producer of the Newseum's broadcasting department.

"Today's Front Pages" has drawn a vast array of readers, from journalism teachers, who use it for class projects, to business transferees, who have a hankering for some hometown news.

The display should help dispel "the myth of the media being some monolithic group, a secret cabal," said Sparrow. "Most of the local papers are going to lead with local stories."

However, the big stories attract the most attention. Readers can compare the banner headlines Feb. 2 after the space shuttle Columbia exploded over Texas by clicking on the Web site's "Cyber Newseum." The Web site also displays a collection of 120 front pages from Sept. 12, 2001.

The "Running Toward Danger" online exhibit gives personal accounts by journalists covering the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York.

"There were body parts and luggage scattered on the ground. A human hand pointed up at me," said New York Daily News photographer Todd Maisel, describing the scene.

Or hear Peter Arnett describe manning a machine gun in a foxhole during the Vietnam war in "War Stories," another online exhibit. He took refuge at an American special forces camp that had sustained heavy casualties. Only four out of 12 men survived. They welcomed him as long as he would help defend the camp against an expected attack.

"It was the most uncomfortable, frightening night of my life," said Arnett, then with The Associated Press.

Students taking an international reporting class at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign use the Web site to compare the news coverage of domestic and international newspapers for a class assignment.

"The more they understand the dynamic of story selection and what goes into it, the better they're able to develop an eye for a story themselves," said Ronald Yates, a former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune who teaches the class.

"Developing an eye for a story is something you develop over time. I don't think you're born with it," said Yates, who heads the journalism department.

They also can study the papers for reporters' cultural biases.

"A lot of times we (reporters) see something as strange and quaint and we write something about it. That's what irritates some developing countries," Yates said.

The original Newseum opened in 1997 and took more than 2.25 million visitors for a behind-the-scenes view of the news.

The new building, which is expected to cost $400 million when it's completed, will be triple the size of the old one and will include the same emphasis on interactive displays, but with many new technical innovations.

"We are really reinventing the Newseum so we can tell the story behind the news in an even more exciting and educational way," said Peter Prichard, president of the Newseum, when the design was unveiled last fall.

The new building will be erected on Pennsylvania Avenue - between the Capitol building and the White House - along the inaugural parade route. The site itself is a reminder of the importance of the media's role as a watchdog of government.

In contrast to the nearby stone federal buildings, the front of the new Newseum building will be almost all glass. Its transparent facade will be a metaphor for a free press and an open society, its designers said. It will feature a 60-foot stone plane engraved with the 45 words of the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Through a glass "window on the world," passersby will be able to glimpse a large 30-by-50-foot media screen projecting breaking news. The new building will also include a two-story memorial to the 1,000 journalists who lost their lives while gathering the news. The current memorial at Freedom Park at the Newseum's old site in Arlington, Va., remains open during construction.

The Newseum is funded by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation, that also focuses on First Amendment issues and newsroom diversity.