"Newseum" A Monument To News

(CBS/AP) A mangled and twisted metal tower that once broadcast radio and television signals to New York City from the top of the World Trade Center has a new home at the Newseum, Washington's tribute to press freedom and the other protections of the First Amendment.

The Newseum, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Plante, is devoted to showing the key role that amendment -- engraved in stone on the building -- plays in guaranteeing the nation's freedom. a 74-foot marble engraving of the First Amendment hangs on the building's facade.

"We're not just a warehouse of objects," Newseum Executive Director Joe Urschel told Plante. "We have a message and we have a story to tell, and when you come, you experience that story."

"What we want to do," Urschel continued, "is get people into this museum and give them an emotional and entertaining experience here so that they come to understand why a free press and why free speech are so important to this functional democracy."

The Trade Center tower is just one striking artifact inside the high-tech journalism museum, which also includes large sections of the Berlin Wall, archival video and newspapers dating back nearly 500 years, and thousands of other objects to wow news junkies.

The Newseum opens Friday in a $450 million ultramodern glass building on Pennsylvania Avenue - prominently seated on the last available site between the Capitol and the White House. The opening caps seven years of planning and construction after the original and much smaller Newseum closed in Arlington, Va., in 2002.

Museum officials hope the prime location in Washington will help lure more tourists from the National Mall.

"We think (people) come here to see their democracy in action," Newseum chief executive Charles Overby said. "And we believe that the press belongs in that pilgrimage - that the press has a central place in our country's democracy."

The noble mission to educate (and entertain) visitors about the free press won't be free, however.

The museum, with a $20 admission fee for adults, will be among the most expensive attractions in Washington, where 20 million annual visitors have become accustomed to free admission at the nearby Smithsonian Institution museums. The popular International Spy Museum in downtown Washington charges $18 for adults; only the Madame Tussauds wax museum charges a higher fee at $21.15 for adults.

But Overby says tourists arrive at the nation's capital "with money in their pockets to spend for the right things." And what they'll get, he said, is something well worth their dollars. "We had a choice to build an average museum of glass cases or try to put together a state-of-the-art experience that people would remember when they went home," he said.

The nonprofit museum, funded primarily by the nonpartisan Freedom Forum, also will be opening during economic doldrums. Even during a downturn, however, the officials say they believe they can draw several hundred thousand visitors a year.

The creators of the Newseum are touting it as an interactive museum that's "somewhere between the Smithsonian and Disney World," Overby said.

Critics of the Newseum, Plante points out, call it an expensive, self-indulgent monument to an institution that doesn't often win popularity contests.

"We actually have people who come in here and tell us in advance, 'I hate the press,' and then, when they leave, 'but I had a good time,' " says Newseum CEO Charles Overby. "And so, you know, that's OK. We don't expect people to love the press; if we were just looking for people to love the press, we'd go out of business the second week!"

One attraction - a 4-D film with gusts of air and squirts of water - highlights some of the heroes from news history, with Edward R. Murrow's broadcasts from London during World War II and Nellie Bly's undercover reports to expose conditions in an insane asylum in 1887.

Other exhibits enable visitors to decide on the most important stories for the front page of a newspaper or tape a TV interview in front of an electronic White House backdrop.

Exhibits will evolve with news of the day.

Daily newspapers from every state will be displayed each day along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the museum and on the building's rooftop terrace. Headlines from The Associated Press scroll constantly on two tickers in the atrium, along with a huge video screen with Newseum films or breaking news from around the world.

The museum will hold special events for big news events, such as the U.S. visit by Pope Benedict XVI next week, the Beijing Olympics, and the political conventions this summer, said Cathy Trost, director of exhibit development.

"It's absolutely a museum of news, but it's a history museum as well," she said. "The artifacts tell those stories in dramatic ways."

The News History Gallery is the largest section with hundreds of items, including the door the Watergate burglars rigged to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. A gallery on the Internet, radio and TV includes legendary CBS News correspondent Edward R. Murrow's war correspondent uniform and the cell phone used by a Virginia Tech student to capture video during the 2007 on-campus shootings.

Celebrity news anchors such as Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams are featured as narrators and subjects of various programs. And LL Cool J, Martin Sheen and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor help explain the First Amendment in a gallery film.

Corporate media sponsors and foundations provided $122 million for the Newseum. Each major donor has a touch screen computer at the entrances of their namesake galleries, with video messages from figures such as New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Fox News anchor Shepard Smith.

Despite those ties, Overby said the Newseum is staffed by journalists and museum professionals, and maintains control of all its content. The museum also takes note of some of its media sponsors' struggles amid accusations of bias and plagiarism.

By the numbers, the Newseum is huge: 15 theaters, 14 major galleries, two television studios and three elevators each the size of a small school bus, all within seven levels and 250,000 square feet. The exhibit route is a mile-and-a-half long, and the upper levels of the building offer some of the best views of the Capitol and iconic monuments and museums on the National Mall.

Those views will provide the backdrop for ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," which will use one of the studios on Sundays. Also, the NPR program "Talk of the Nation" has announced it will broadcast from the Newseum.

The museum's architecture includes three distinct layers visible outside the building, symbolizing sections of a newspaper.

But Overby said they didn't set out to build a museum to commemorate newspapers or struggles in the news industry.

Curators don't touch the economics of the news business, he said, except to acknowledge the delivery of news is changing with falling newspaper circulation and rising demand for video online.

Instead, the focus is on "the stories of your life," he said.

© MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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