‘New’ Newseum Takes Shape

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Just behind the seven-story high stone engraving of the First Amendment, there’s a frenzy of activity. Lights are being hung, soundproofing is being installed, welds are ground down and paint sprayed—all necessary items that must be crossed off the list to prepare one of the largest audio/visual facility projects in the country for its debut. The location is 555 Pennsylvania Avenue and the project is the Freedom Forum’s Newseum.

The first and most lasting impression that one comes away with in visiting the Newseum is the colossal nature of this undertaking. The facility will occupy a quarter of a million square feet of the half-city block-sized building taking shape here. It’s a replacement for the former Newseum facility that was located across the Potomac in Arlington, Va. and which closed its doors to the public five years ago.

Even though it’s officially a “museum,” the Newseum is definitely not going to be a collection of dimly lighted static exhibits.


“The Newseum is truly a new unique museum—it’s the most interactive in the known world and also the most changeable,” said Joe Urschel, executive director and senior vice president of the Newseum. “We are really the only museum that studies this subject—the news and its flow in a democratic society. Because the news changes every second our museum has to be equally changeable.”

Urschel cited the events of Sept. 11, 2001 as an example.

“We want to be able to react instantly to whatever the big story is. Before [in the previous Newseum] we had the beginnings of such an exhibit of 9/11,” Urschel said. “We will be able to do things like that to a greater degree and much faster in the new museum.”

The new facility is designed not only to provide news-related artifacts and information about them, but also to allow visitors to participate interactively in many of its exhibits. Opportunities will be available to test an individual’s ethical judgment in reporting an event. It will also allow visitors to get a ringside seat in connection with current events.

“We will have daily programs with newsmen and newswomen and involving newsmakers, that visitors can watch and interact with,” said Urschel. “We are really a unique presentation.”

While still a work in progress at this point, there is enough of the technical infrastructure in place to provide a good idea of how the facility will look at its formal ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Even as workers from many trades scurry about—accompanied by the smells of fresh concrete, wet paint and hot metal—it’s difficult not to be impressed with what’s taking shape just steps away from the National Mall. The larger of the two television studios is being built out to 3,000 square feet and will have seating capacity for a live audience of 135 people, making it one of the largest in the region. Enormity even trickles down to the passenger elevators being in-stalled. These three hydraulically driven lifts are the largest in the world according to Bud O’Connnor, the Newseum’s director of engineering. Each will accommodate between 70 and 100 people.

(click thumbnail)Framed around a Grass Valley Kalypso switcher, Barco video wall and Chyron graphics, the Newseum video control room "A" takes shape.

A second TV studio is located at the very front of the building and is glass-walled. It was designed to give the impression of overhanging Washington’s main thoroughfare and offers an unimpeded view of the nation’s Capitol through its east wall.

Perhaps the most visible aspect of the Newseum is its special “Media Wall.” This is located in the atrium lobby of the building and measures 40-feet by 22-feet. Barco 6 mm LED technology is used, and there are enough LED clusters to provide full 1920x1080 video resolution. Even though the display will weigh in at 30,000 pounds, it is moveable. A special cable suspension arrangement will allow it to travel between the main lobby floor and the Newseum ceiling, a span of 50 feet. Passersby on Pennsylvania Avenue will be able to glimpse the high-definition images through the glass front of the building.


Plans call for a newsgathering helicopter to be suspended above the heads of visitors entering the Newseum, but the real focal point is at the lobby’s eastern end. Workmen are readying to install the remaining upper portion of the 350-foot television antenna mast rescued from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Along with the television studios and large artifacts, there’s a full-time radio control room, five video editing suites and 15 theatres—one equipped for 3D and another with a 90-foot long video display.

Interactive video will be a big part of the Newseum, and the 125 kiosks being installed will allow visitors to pull audio, video and data from Newseum archives, or to view current happenings.

The master control facility for the Newseum is sized at 1,225 square feet and is designed to accommodate up to 12 operations people. A semi-circle of GKM custom-sized racks is already positioned to accommodate the bulk of MC equipment. As soon as these are populated and wired, they will be crowned with a 30-foot long video wall to provide the majority of the room’s video monitoring.

“SNMP will rule the day here,” said O’Connor. “We expect it to be a big help in troubleshooting when something does break. It will be a big part of the master control and overall operation.”

The amount of electronics equipment needed to drive all of this is massive and is spread over much of the Newseum space. Communication Engineering Inc. (CEI) of Newington, Va., was selected as the designer/integrator for the technical side of things.

“It is really a huge project,” said Greg Echols, CEI’s marketing director. “It’s a high profile location and a pretty important job for us and everyone involved. It ranks up there as one of CEI’s largest projects.”

Raef Alkhayat, director of engineering at CEI, reports that the company has a total of 18 people working on-site full-time.

“And that doesn’t take into account the large amount of pre-wiring that was done before the equipment left our shops,” said Alkhayat. “This is our single biggest project right now.”


CEI has woven several one-of-a-kind features into the new Newseum. One of these is an elevator mechanism into the bases built for the Euphonix Max Air digital audio consoles. This feature is designed to ease ADA compliance and provides an up or down adjustment of the control surfaces within a two-foot range.

The latest in high-definition video gear will be used in the Newseum, including eight Grass Valley LDK-6000 MKII HD cameras fitted with Canon optics. The cameras can be shared in any combination between the two television studios. Three Kalypso high-definition switchers are also part of the configuration, with two 3-M/E units in the studio control rooms and a single M/E Kalypso installed in the Newseum’s master control area.

Barco display units are being used for the project, with Evertz providing the necessary image video multiplexing. Sony direct-view monitors will be used in other locations as appropriate.

The walls, floor, ceiling and HVAC system for the facility’s central equipment room has been completed, and gear installation and wiring is underway. The Emcor racks placed there are beginning to fill up with equipment, including Grass Valley K2 video servers and Apex digital audio routing system. Doremi Nugget HD playout servers were selected for theatre use. In another section of the room racks are already loaded with the shelves to accommodate the scores of PCs that will also be tied to kiosks. There’s a full complement of MediaMatrix Nion6 digital signal processors through which all of the Newseum’s audio will pass. Transport for a planned 1080p kiosk video is being accommodated with 3 Gbps fiber optic gear. The quantity of support equipment contained within the central equipment room can be reckoned by the capacity of the UPS installed—450 KVA.


As large and spacious as everything else is, the Newseum’s Walter and Lenore Annenberg Theater is by far the largest single entity. The theatre was designed to seat more than 500 and is equipped for 3D presentations with two Christie CP2000X DLP projectors. Audio will be full 5.1, and a total of 196 of the theatre’s seats are special “motion” types which can move with on-screen action to provide an enhanced viewer experience.

October 15 had been planned as the opening date for the Newseum, but this has slipped. O’Connor says that he’s ready to complete the technical build-out, but, of course, the bricks and mortar side of things must come first.

“We’re dependent upon the builder,” said O’Connor. “They’re trying hard, but there’s a lot to do. It’s a complicated building and the tech people can’t come in until the structure is built out. A lot of the building is still in the construction mode. The construction people are still working on the façade’s glass curtain wall and this is tricky. They’re having trouble with some of the details.”

Newseum officials at this point are still hoping for a formal dedication this year, or at the latest, in early 2008.

James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others.  He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.