The Newseum: Read All About It |

The Newseum: Read All About It

Michael O'Sullivan
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON ” What will you find at the Newseum, the shiny new 250,000-square-foot museum in downtown Washington?

Only 14 major thematic exhibits, 15 theaters, a gallery of newspaper front pages that changes daily, hundreds of artifacts from major news stories (including a chunk of twisted wreckage from the North Tower of the World Trade Center), and so much audio and video it would take you more than a day to watch and listen to it all. In short, the seven-story institution could arguably be said to offer a different experience every time you visit.

How to navigate this jungle? Here’s the who, what, where, when, why and how needed to simplify your visit.

Is there a recommended route for first-time visitors?

Yes. Start in the Great Hall, just inside the main entrance at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. Overhead you’ll see a replica of a Bell 206B news chopper and a giant video screen. Take the escalators down one flight to the Concourse level. Check out the short orientation film, and then ride the glass elevators near the Berlin Wall fragment up to the sixth floor. Work your way back downstairs on foot.

Insider Tips:

– Avoid using the museum’s C Street entrance when tour buses are loading or unloading.

– Take advantage of the 9-to-5 daily hours. That’s one hour before most Smithsonian museums open, and a full 2 1/2 hours earlier than the nearby Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

– For your second visit only, or for maverick first-timers: Bypass the glass elevators entirely, which don’t stop between the Concourse and the sixth floor. At the east and west ends of the Great Hall are stairs and elevators that access every floor. Go crazy.

How much does it cost?

Timed tickets are $20, seniors $18, ages 7 to 12 $13, free for children younger than 7. To buy tickets, call 888-639-7386, visit or go to the admissions desk at the museum.

Insider Tips:

– Want to play with one of the eight “Be a TV Reporter” stations in the NBC News Interactive Newsroom (Level 2)? That’s $8 extra. You get a code to retrieve your clip online.

– If you even think you might be a repeat customer (and with so much to see, it’s not a bad idea), consider buying an annual “Press Pass.” The cost, which includes unlimited free admission to the Newseum and the “Be a TV Reporter” stations as well as a 10 percent store discount, is $75 for adults, seniors $50, ages 7 to 12 $25.

What’s the most gee-whiz new technology?

The first high-tech feature is the “Ethics Table.” The interactive quiz pits two teams answering questions about journalistic ethics, such as this: “Your photographer has two good pictures of a candidate ” one flattering, one unflattering. Your newspaper endorsed her opponent. Do you use the unflattering picture?” The quiz, which uses Wii-like technology including mirrors, video projection and intuitive hand movements, is more fun than journalism school. Ethics Center, Level 2.

A second is “I-Witness: A 4-D Time Travel Adventure,” an original short film that tells the story of three pioneering journalists using such theme-park technology as 3-D glasses, moving seats and blasts of air and water to create an immersive, “4-D” experience. Is it slightly cheesy? Heck, yes. Did I nevertheless jump out of my skin when female reporter Nellie Bly tossed a live “rat” in my “lap”? Um, no, that must have been the guy next to me. “I-Witness” repeats three times every hour in the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater. Follow the signs from either the Concourse or Level 1.

All this talk of live rats is making me hungry. Where’s the food?

The in-house eatery is on the Concourse. A collaboration between celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and Restaurant Associates, the cafeteria-style Food Section (get it?) features a menu that includes chicken fingers and pizza for picky eaters and such rotating “Puck’s Favorites” as provencal king salmon. Entrees are $5 to $14.

More formal dining is available next door to the Newseum at the Source by Wolfgang Puck (575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). Call (202) 637-6100 for lunch or dinner reservations.

Insider Tip:

– If hunger pangs strike midway through your visit, note where you left off and head for the elevators at either end of the building. Take them to the Concourse. Afterward, finding your way back to where you left off is easy using the same elevators.

How appropriate are the exhibits for kids?

Strong images scattered throughout the museum could upset young or sensitive visitors, particularly in the galleries devoted to the 9/11 attacks (Level 4) and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs (Level 1). Parents of smaller children should check them out first. Newseum staff members have been trained to alert families to the presence of potentially disturbing imagery.

I’ve heard the Newseum has stunning views of downtown Washington.

You heard right. On the sixth floor, grab your camera and head for the Hank Greenspun Terrace. Overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, the outdoor balcony boasts panoramic views of the Mall from the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court in the east to the Washington Monument in the west.

Insider Tip:

– If it’s crowded, try the Capitol Terrace (Level 2) instead. Less jaw-dropping but still impressive.

What likely bottlenecks should I avoid?

There are at least two potential logjams, both in the News Corp. News History Gallery on Level 5. The “News From a Different Angle” exhibit, which focuses on such fake news phenomena as “Weekend Update” from “Saturday Night Live” and Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” was a traffic stopper with preview tours.

And the 1964 National Enquirer cover featuring a black-and-white autopsy photo of Lee Harvey Oswald’s corpse is gruesome but fascinating. At the Newseum’s former location, it was the single most viewed item in the museum’s collection of historic newspapers. You’ll find it in the pull-out drawers that run down the center of the gallery.

There’s also the bullet-riddled truck used by Time magazine staffers during the 1990s strife in the former Yugoslavia. Look for the “Dateline: Danger” display on Level 3.

Insider Tip:

– Speaking of cars, another powerful reminder of the risks faced by journalists is the bombed-out car of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles (Level 4). Bolles, who was working on a story tip about Arizona mobsters, died from injuries sustained in a 1976 attack. Galvanized by his death, other journos took up his investigation of organized crime. Forget James Bond’s Aston Martin at the International Spy Museum. This is the real ” and real grisly ” deal.

I’m more interested in the whole meta-concept underlying the Newseum. You know,

gathering information about information gathering.

Make a beeline for the third floor, to a gallery devoted to the way the Internet, TV and radio have changed, and continue to change, the way we get news. On the same floor, the Time Warner World News Gallery helps remind viewers that, in an age of globalization, all news is not local.

Can I go inside the big TV studio?

Yes. When you arrive at the Newseum, check out the day’s schedule for the Knight Studio on Level 3. Guided tours, interactive games such as “News Mania” and public affairs shows where you can be an audience member are available throughout the day.

OK, I’m done. Where do I pick up my T-shirt?

Located on the first and second floors off the Great Hall, the museum shops are positioned to grab your eye (and wallet) coming and going. Toys and games are on the ground floor, next to a second shopping area featuring mainly books, DVDs and replicas of historic front pages. On Level 2, you’ll find your novelty T-shirts (“Trust me. I’m a reporter.”) and Newseum logo-wear, next to a more upscale mini-shop offering news-themed jewelry, ceramics and clothing.