Life

Washington D.C.

News of the world in D.C.

By Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun

Visitors to Washington, DC's Newseum look at front pages from major North American newspapers, which are changed daily. LANCE HORNBY/QMI Agency

Visitors to Washington, DC's Newseum look at front pages from major North American newspapers, which are changed daily. LANCE HORNBY/QMI Agency

At the Newseum, freedom of the press starts with freedom of movement and freedom of architecture.

No actual papers are seen upon entering its Great Hall, but the eye is drawn to the top of the 27-metre atrium, where all available light should get in.

Dangling 23,000 square metres above 30 galleries, theatres and broadcast studios are the most modern tools of 21st century news gathering, a 12-by-6-metre HD media screen, a TV news chopper and a communications satellite.

But a quick glass elevator ride puts you in the News History gallery, with carefully preserved publications dating from 1455.

One of the first war correspondents' stories is a small patch of parchment by an Italian who could have been the Wolf Blitzer of the day.

He described the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the Catholic Holy League defeated an Ottoman force off the coast of Greece.

So begins the journey forward to the giant headlines from papers around the United States and the globe, proclaiming the Civil War's end, the Titanic's fate and the moon landing.

Contrast that with a block dedicated to the rapid development of electronic news and the Internet, where the Radio Shack Tandy we were using not long ago is already a relic under glass.

Visitors get up close to reminders of gripping events -- O.J. Simpson's trial clothing, the hotel door to the Watergate break-in and bulletins from J.F.K.'s assasination.

When the nearby FBI building ceased pubic tours after 9/11, the Newseum inherited some of its archives, including firearms from the gangster era, evidence from notorious cases and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's hermit cabin.

Making the most of Newseum's angular layout astride Pennsylvania Ave., there's display space for a mangled broadcast antenna from the World Trade Center's North Tower and a piece of fuselage from Flight 93.

It's surrounded by front pages from around the world of that fateful day.

Journalist Bill Biggart's scorched camera and photo ID from his tragic last morning on the job rest nearby.

Eight sections of the Berlin Wall (with colourful graffiti on the Western side and drab grey on the East), rest beneath an East German Checkpoint Charlie sentry tower.

In another sombre section is the bullet-riddled car that ferried media in the Balkans War and a monument to more than 2,000 journalists killed in the line of work since 1837.

If such subject matter becomes too heavy, step outside on the Pennsylvania Ave. terrace, with daily updated front pages from 50 North American papers, as well as a magnificent photo opportunity of the neighbouring Canadian embassy and the Capitol Hill dome.

Memorials along the ledge tell the evolution of this famous street and presidential inauguration route.

If not touring this section of D.C. by design, you find the Newseum is next door to the beautiful Smithsonian National Gallery of Art.

And from the outside is the 45,000-kilo First Amendment tablet, carved from Tennessee marble, reminding all Americans they're granted free speech and the right of assembly.

The fight to gain and maintain those tenets of democracy are detailed throughout the Newseum, which is sponsored by 14 major media partners.

Back inside, one wall is taken up with a world atlas scoreboard tracking which countries exercise the greatest media freedoms, marked in green and yellow, with the most restrictive coloured red.

The six levels provide many places to slow down or sit, starting with the Annenberg Theatre's 4-D orientation journey and a display of wrenching Pulitzer Prize-winning photos.

It's the largest-ever assembled, with commentary from those behind the camera.

Small theatres highlight such issues as the media's role in the civil rights movement, history of sports reporting, the career of Edward R. Murrow and a whimsical look at Hollywood's depiction of the press gang.

A hit with kids are the inter-a ctive newsrooms, where they can read the headlines in front of a live camera and a pictorial of presidential pets from the late 19th century to Bo, the Obamas' Portuguese water dog.

Viewers of ABC's This Week will recognize the Newseum's Knight Studio as Christine Amanpour's base on Sunday morning.

Many U.S. "town hall" meetings are also televised here, sure to increase in the 2012 election year.

- - -

GOOD TO GO

Air Canada flies to the centrally located Reagan National Airport from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Newseum admission ranges from $12.95 for youth, $22.95 for adults and $17.95 for seniors and students.


Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions