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Hill Staffers Get Sneak Peek at Newseum

Sporting white hard hats and square safety glasses, dozens of Capitol Hill press secretaries on Tuesday got a sneak peek of the Newseum, the 250,000-square-foot museum set to open this fall.

Sponsored by the Canadian Embassy, the Newseum’s next-door neighbor on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, the event was designed to help connect staffers on the Hill to staffers who work at the embassy.

Aside from their tour, Hill aides also received a gift bag from the embassy, which included a Canada-themed T-shirt, mints, a coffee mug and a CD featuring Canadian artists honored at the 2006 Juno awards.

The Newseum itself is rapidly coming along since its 2003 groundbreaking. Most of the external work on the building is done, and workers are now inside the museum, creating the rooms that will make up the complex’s 14 exhibit spaces, 15 theaters and two television studios.

“This is going to be the most fun and most dynamic museum in Washington,” Charles Overby, chairman and CEO of the Newseum, told the staffers at a breakfast before the tour.

He later joked: “We look forward, if Congress doesn’t lower the ethics rules anymore, to having you a number of times.”

Plans call for the museum to be an interactive experience, tracing the history of news from its early beginnings to the evolution of the Internet.

Exhibits will include the news gallery, filled with more than 40,000 historic newspapers; the 9/11 gallery, which will study the ways in which the press covered the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; a Journalists Memorial, dedicated to members of the press who have died reporting the news; and the Interactive Newsroom and Newseum Ethics Center, a 7,000-square-foot space allowing visitors to become a photographer, reporter, editor or anchor.

Staffers who visited the complex also got a chance to look at the items featured in the museum that are not specific to the press.

One of the highlights of the museum is expected to be a guard tower from the Berlin Wall, officials said. The tower already is located within the building, although scaffolding surrounded it during the tour, keeping it protected from the construction going on nearby.

At each stop on the tour, a Newseum official explained what the gray, concrete walls surrounding them will become.

There was the Forum Theatre in the lower level, which will eventually turn into a four-dimensional experience highlighting the efforts of Nellie Bly and Edward R. Murrow. Then there’s the fifth-floor terrace, featuring a dynamic view of the Capitol that Max Page, the museum’s deputy director and vice president, expects will be rented out “every fourth Jan. 20.”

The complex won’t just be home to museum exhibits, however. It also will feature a three-level dining facility headlined by chef Wolfgang Puck, a food court, private conference center and more than 140,000 square feet of apartments.

Press secretaries seemed pretty impressed with the building following the tour.

Television news veteran Ryan James, now the press secretary for Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), said he plans to come back to the Newseum once it opens.

“I think it’s going to be something that is going to draw a lot of attention, a lot of interest,” James said.