STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Politicians are sometimes thankful for journalists because they ensure that someone is less popular in public opinion polls than they are. Public confidence in journalism has been on a steady decline. But a new museum celebrating the profession opens today in Washington, D.C. It's called the Newseum. It's relocated from Arlington, Virginia to a spot near the national mall with a mission to help the public and the media better understand each other. The Newseum's new home is a spectacular glass and steel building. The question now is whether people who read the New York Times online for free will pay the $20 museum admission. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: Newseum officials set out to make a museum that would be fun and interactive, and what could be more fun than pretending you're a journalist, right? One exhibit is a game called the ethics table. Two teams compete against each other to fill the front page of a newspaper. Every time a player answers an ethical question correctly, a story gets added.
Ms. KRISTIN CHASE(ph) (Game player at Newseum): You were assigned a story about a teen accused of shoplifting. She's your neighbor and babysitter. Do you tell your editor? Yes. Correct, this could be a conflict of interest.
BLAIR: Kristin Chase's team is playing against Ary Gurstman's(ph) team.
Mr. ARY GURSTMAN (Game player at Newseum): During a golf tournament you see a player illegally move his ball. Do you have to turn in the player? Absolutely. Oh no.
BLAIR: It says incorrect. Why does it say incorrect?
Mr. GURSTMAN: Because I'm a reporter, not a golf official. But that's kind of silly. I mean you report on somebody cheating.
BLAIR: That's exactly the kind of response Paul Sparrow hopes players will have. Sparrow is vice president of broadcasting and programming at the Newseum.
Mr. PAUL SPARROW (Vice President of Broadcasting and Programming, Newseum): What the ethics table does is it provides insight into the difficult decisions that journalists are forced to make.
BLAIR: Paul Sparrow says many of the ethics questions are intentionally about photography.
Mr. SPARROW: Everybody posts photographs on their Web pages, on their myspace page, and they manipulate these images routinely. And we're trying to make the point that yes, it's okay for you to manipulate a photograph if you're posting it on your Web page. It's not okay to manipulate a photograph if you're posting it in a news publication - whether it's a Web site or a newspaper or a television show.
BLAIR: Of course, professional journalists have acted unethically. Take the time a journalist for the Los Angeles Times altered a photo he took in Iraq to make it more dramatic. He was fired and his story is on display at the Newseum. Paul Sparrow believes the interactive nature of the ethics table will both entertain and educate. But Jack Shafer, who writes a column about the media for Slate thinks it sounds about as informative as a video game. He also thinks it's misleading.
Mr. JACK SHAFER (Columnist for Slate Magazine): The idea that journalists occupy a profession that is especially charged with ethics, I think is just not true. I think your average civilian has as many ethical problems that they have to sort out in a day as any journalist.
BLAIR: Shafer admits he hasn't visited the Newseum to see these exhibits for himself, he says he's too, quote, "self-respecting," to go inside.
Mr. SHAFER: It's a sort of vanity operation. It's a place for journalists to say look how heroic we have been in the defense and the advancement of democracy and what not.
BLAIR: The Newseum is big on naming rights. There are rooms and exhibits named for such major donors as the New York Times, the News Corporation, and ABC. NPR is not a donor, but Talk of the Nation did a live broadcast from the Newseum earlier this week and has plans for at least one more. The total price tag for the Newseum is about $450 million. Jack Shafer wishes some of that money would have gone towards advancing journalism, like endowing a newspaper, especially at a time when cuts to newsrooms across the country have been so severe. But the Newseum is impressive with 14 main galleries and 15 theaters, visitors can do things like film themselves as if they were reporting from the White House or the Supreme Court. There are copies of newspapers going back to the 16th century, and a gallery devoted to coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's hard to say if the Newseum will change anybody's mind about journalists, but the people playing the ethics table were definitely having a good time.
Mr. GURSTMAN: Oh we got scooped, we lost. Oh, we were so close.
BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: Well here's a photo at the Newseum showing coverage of the presidential impeachment of the 1990s. It's one of many that you can see as you tour the Newseum in photos, for nothing, at npr.org.