Eyewitness
In The Museum Of News
27 May 2008

Editorial development manager for Sky News, Rob Kirk, visits Washington DC's 'Newseum'

350newseum An American comedian said the only time things end up in museums is when there’s no use for them any more – so Washington DC’s ‘Newseum’ means the ‘end of the news’.

I know this because I saw the clip from Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report in a video display – in the Newseum;  the seven-level 450 million dollar extravaganza with 14 galleries and 15 theatres has room for parody and satire.

This new and mightily expanded palace – part-sponsored by News Corporation - opened in mid April and joins the Smithsonian, the National Art Gallery, the National Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian in that remarkable complex in the centre of the US capital – surely the most star-studded celebration of culture in the world.

Does it work?  Some critics call it a monument to journalistic vanity, and there’s certainly a heady message of the journalist-as-hero-or heroine running through it.

You also have to pay to get in – unlike the publically-funded jewels across the Mall  - but the fee is almost worth it for the view from the top-floor gallery alone: an unequalled glimpse of the Capitol Building.

More important: it works as an evocative and moving record of modern times. It’s more the ‘Story of Our Lives’ than the ‘Story of the News’.  It proves, if proof were needed, that news really is the first draft of history.

Sure, it attempts to define ‘news’ and trace its development from the time when Man first began to grunt, through the invention of printing, and on to the massive technical developments of the last century, with radio and TV, colour and live-broadcasting, and the arguably even more seismic shifts of today’s web-led convergent world.

And it’s fun to see inside a live TV gallery, to ‘be-a-reporter’, and to slip on special glasses and see a film in 4-D. Yes: 4-D.

It’s also fun to see some of the detritus of journalistic history, like the notebook from a Newsweek reporter containing – for the first time – a telling reference to a ‘Monica Lewinsky’, or the fire-exit door found taped open at the Watergate complex which led to a sequence of events that eventually toppled another President.

But the Newseum’s best when it’s simply telling stories, which after all is what journalism is really all about.

History really does come to life when you browse the sensational display of early journals, including a report on the execution of King Charles I, the killing of Jesse James, and turn a corner to see a large section of the Berlin Wall and an East German watch-tower – and see and hear accounts of the journalists who reported its building, those who died trying to cross it, and its fall in 1998 – nine months after Sky News was launched.

Turn another corner, and you’re face-to-face with a battered section of the antennae from the top of the northern tower of the World Trade Centre, backed by an entire wall of outraged 9-11 front pages.

Here, the cameraman who filmed the collapse of the towers tells us how he did it, and a widow tells us how her photographer husband died when the tower collapsed, leaving his final pictures as his legacy.

Not without reason, this gallery has two boxes of tissues on a ledge.

It goes on. War reporting, from the Crimea, through the World Wars to Vietnam and today’s fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan...the role of reporting the fight for Civil Rights...the struggle to get equal treatment for woman (it wasn’t until 2006 that a solo woman presented a regular nightly newscast in the USA)...and there’s an open-minded section called ‘Who Controls the News?’

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Above all, it reminds us about the continuing cost of the news in human lives. Here, it strikes home.

There’s another huge wall, with pictures of journalists and technicians who’ve died bringing the news home. Their names are also engraved on a glass wall, which ominously has several large and vacant panels.

Among the names and pictures is the British TV reporter Terry Lloyd, who was shot dead whilst working for ITN in Iraq in 2003. An inter-active touch-screen register contains details about him.

And it’s honest enough to report that he almost certainly died as a result of so-called American ‘friendly fire’.

Written by Eyewitness, 27 May 2008

Comments

Sir
Newseums or News Archives of such seismic standards do have a place in history, and anyone labelling them otherwise, would appear to be watching terrestrials from worlds beyond.
Without the divine words of many a journalist, can anyone imagine what the world would be really like?
Yet as with every trade, there is the dark side to such events, as evident by the untimely departure of those who's dedication leaves just memories. Nonetheless, whether it be [Anita Baker] or anyone else palying the [Piano In The Dark] such memories will last for ever, remain unique and above all well deserved by the industry created underneath the sky.


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