WASHINGTON, US - Newspaper revenue is plummeting and television networks are desperately wooing a dwindling audience. For industry veterans, the outlook has never been so bleak.
What better time to throw a huge party? A US$450-million (S$610-million) museum paying tribute to the news and those who report and ready it for viewers, listeners and readers, opened last Friday to great fanfare in a prime location on Pennsylvania Avenue - midway between the White House and Capitol, not far from the National Mall.
The Newseum is a flashy addition to this city's collection of museums. The seven-storey palace is highly interactive and celebrates the glory days of a business that is plagued by shrinking audiences and rising costs.
In a city where free entry to museums is still the norm, adults must pay US$20 for admission to the Newseum. But its officials are gambling that tourists will spend money for what they term a "learning and fun" experience.
Mr Charles L Overby, the Newseum's chief executive, said the International Spy Museum, another Washington tourist destination that charges a similar ticket price, had 750,000 visitors last year.
"We could have built an average museum with glass cases where people come in and look at items or we could build a high-tech museum that gives people something to do," he said. "People are willing to pay money, if you have a good experience."
With some critics speculating that the print version of newspapers is slowly going the way of the Pony Express, perhaps a museum is where it should be featured.
One exhibit explores the future of the digital age, highlighting the role of bloggers and citizen journalists. But much of the content in the 14 major exhibition galleries and 15 theatres is focused on how the mainstream media covered the 20th century's biggest stories.
One gallery displays an array of heart-wrenching photographs that won Pulitzer Prizes.
A James Madison impersonator talks with students at an exhibit on the First Amendment.
A mangled transmission tower that was once atop the World Trade Center is part of an exhibit on how reporters covered the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
An ethics centre allows budding journalists to ponder real-life dilemmas faced by professionals.
Aside from a few gory displays, the museum is kid-friendly. At eight "Be a TV Reporter" stations, would-be broadcasters are recorded reading from a teleprompter in front of a choice of backdrops. The videos are then posted on the Internet, where they can be downloaded.
Some items remind visitors how dangerous journalism can be - including the remnants of a blood-stained war reporter's notebook left after a grenade exploded. The Journalists Memorial contains the name of 1,843 professionals who have died while reporting the news since 1837.
Photographs from the 2008 presidential campaign are on display. Video displays chronicle television coverage of the 2000 presidential election, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and last year's shooting at Virginia Tech.
Interestingly, museum curators considered a range of comedy to be part of the news. Clips from Saturday Night Live, Mad TV and The Colbert Report play on televisions in the museum. --LAT-WP