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Newseum visit offers entertaining lessons on journalism, media ethics

ERIC JENSEN

By ERIC JENSEN
Oct. 1, 2010 at 5:01 a.m.

The twisted remains of an antenna that was once atop the north tower of the World Trade Center is part of a large display of the 9/11 attack in the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Various front pages from the following day can be seen behind the antenna display.

BY ERIC JENSEN

EJENSEN@VICAD.COM

While on vacation recently, I got to play reporter, news photographer and editor.

Now, before my newsroom colleagues grab me by the collar and inform me that they don't "play" at their jobs, let me explain.

I tried my hand at these jobs in interactive newsroom kiosks at the Newseum, a Washington, D.C. museum devoted to journalism.

This six-story museum includes two broadcast studios, 14 galleries, 15 theaters and 125 interactive stations. No, I didn't count them all. I just borrowed those facts from Frommer's Washington, D.C., 2010 guidebook.

The interactive reporter and photojournalist kiosks seemed to be geared toward young students, but I think adults, like me, can enjoy them as well - and learn a thing or two about journalism in the process.

The reporter kiosk features a touch screen that begins the animated program. My virtual editor assigns me to cover the story of the day. It seems all the animals have been let out of their cages at the circus and it's up to me to not only come back with the story, but also figure out whodunnit.

At the scene, I interview an aging hippie protestor, a police officer and several circus performers. I also examine the scene of the crime to describe it for my readers. My virtual editor pops in from time to time in the lower right hand screen, reminding me to separate fact from opinion and how interviewees can interject their "spin" on events.

After questioning all the subjects, I re-interview a person at the scene and discover the guilty party. Four headline suggestions are presented and I select one that best tells the story. My virtual editor compliments me, saying I have what it takes to be a good reporter.

The nearby photojournalist kiosk invites visitors to "shoot" photos, from videos on the touch screen, of a little girl's rescue from a raging river. I "shoot" about a dozen pictures and my virtual photo editor picks my shot of the anxious father reaching for his daughter laying on a backboard as rescuers carry her to safety.

I was told I have what it takes to be a good news photographer.

Perhaps the most entertaining interactive station was what I call the ethics table.

Visitors select one of eight stations on a lighted table with a blank newspaper page in the center. With each right answer to a journalism ethics question, a story and headline is added to the page.

"You learn that another newspaper could beat you on a big story tomorrow morning. Do you publish the story before verifying all the facts?"

That question was a no-brainer and I quickly answer "no."

"Correct," the lighted table tells me. "Accuracy is a building block of journalism."

"A rock star cancels a concert claiming a sore throat. You learn the real reason is too much liquor. His publicist says the true story will permanently damage the star's reputation. Do you write it?"

"Yes," I say.

"Correct. The star's a public figure. Your job is to tell the truth."

There were also eight television reporter stations where, for a fee, visitors could stand in front of a TV camera with such backgrounds as the White House, Capitol Hill, a basketball court or a weather map, and read a teleprompter script.

Passing on that opportunity, I instead visited the 9/11 exhibit and galleries on Hurricane Katrina coverage, the Berlin Wall and G-Men and Journalists. The Internet, TV and Radio Gallery also grabbed my attention.

The Pulitzer-Prize photographs gallery features some iconic pictures of the 20th century as well as lesser-known photos. Touch screen kiosks offer more information on several of the notable photos and even video interviews of the photographers, explaining how they got the award-winning shot.

There is also a highly-entertaining 15-minute 4-D film with segments on Revolutionary War journalist Isaiah Thomas, 1880s investigative reporter Nellie Bly and World War II broadcaster Edward R. Morrow. The theater seats rock back and forth whenever onscreen muskets are fired or German bombs explode, giving the audience that you-are-there fourth dimension effect.

I enjoyed my museum time pretending to be a reporter, photographer and editor, but now that vacation is over, it's time for me to get back to work pretending to be an Advocate copy editor/page designer.

Newseum, I shall return.

The Press Gallery is an occasional column in which Advocate staffers personalize the news. Eric Jensen is an Advocate copy editor. Contact him at ejensen@vicad.com.

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