Journalism educators applaud Newseum’s First Amendment film

Monday, August 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — The $450 million Newseum — described by Freedom Forum CEO Charles L. Overby as “the largest investment ever made to educate the public about the First Amendment” — already has begun to pay off, according to journalism educators.

About 850 members of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication got an advance look Aug. 9 at the museum of news, under construction on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the first time the Newseum had hosted a large group on site since work began on the building in 2003.

“I can’t tell you the joy we feel tonight to be able to welcome you here,” Overby told educators assembled in the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater.

Convention-goers watched one of the Newseum’s original films, “45 Words: A Story of the First Amendment,” which explores early Americans’ conflicts over First Amendment freedoms.

After the screening, several educators repeated the same reaction: “I’m impressed.”

“They said all the things I hoped they would say about the need for a free press,” Suzon Gordon, of Altoona, Wis., said.

Gordon, and other attendees, pointed to the film’s exploration of the 1798 Sedition Act — which banned the publishing of false or malicious writings against the government — as particularly relevant to today’s political climate. “The pain that the country went through with the Sedition Act is coming back to haunt us,” she said.

Therese Lueck, a professor of communication at the University of Akron, Ohio, echoed that assessment and said the film would drive that point home to her students. “I really like how the drama brought history to life, and I’m impressed with the quotes (from early American newspapers) that were chosen to tell the story. This is something that students could really relate to.”

Seven-year-old Malik Larkin of Bowie, Md., enjoyed the movie for a different reason: “I liked hearing the presidents! Especially George Washington, he’s my favorite.”

Larkin’s mom, Rochelle Ford of Howard University, said watching the film’s portrayal of crusading newspapermen made her “laugh about how much history is repeating itself.”

“It reminded me of today’s bloggers,” she said. “Bloggers are doing exactly what the partisan press did in those days.”

Newseum Executive Director Joe Urschel promised educators that “45 Words” was just the tip of the iceberg of the educational experience the Newseum would offer. “This film represents only 20 minutes out of the 27 hours of original video productions that visitors will see in the new Newseum,” he said.

“This is going to be the newest, most interactive museum in Washington,” Overby said. “We hope to entice people to come here, have fun and learn about the First Amendment.”

Ford said she was sold. “I’m definitely going to be back, and I’m going to make visiting the Newseum a course requirement for my students.”

The Newseum will announce an opening date this fall.

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