The Newseum Opens a New Media Gallery

The 2,500-square-foot space, sponsored by Hewlett Packard, combines cutting-edge technology with interactive displays.

By: Sophie Gilbert

Given that news these days is broken almost entirely in pixels rather than in print, the arrival of the Newseum's newest gallery, the HP New Media Gallery, feels almost belated. But make no mistake--the technology behind it is brand new, from the two HP VantagePoint wall screens to the HP Photon Engine software that collects information in real time and displays it in 2- or 3D. In other words, dusty old artifacts and anachronistic galleries this ain't.

The New Media Gallery is the Newseum's first permanent gallery to open since it moved to its current space on the National Mall in 2008. "We realized we needed to do a lot more on new media," says the museum's senior vice president for broadcasting, Paul Sparrow. "Our key value is participation." The new gallery, Sparrow says, is a "living laboratory," where visitors can explore scrolling feeds of the day's biggest news story, enter their names and photos to be instantly seen and broadcast around the Newseum, and create their own Web-oriented front pages.

Hewlett Packard's vice president for innovation programs, Carlos Montalvo, in the HP New Media Gallery's control room. Photograph by Sophie Gilbert.

Of course, putting the consumer in charge of the news has some downsides--on the day of the media preview, some aspiring editor had created a page called "The Poop Daily." The technology is designed so other visitors can flag unsuitable content, but with a title as good as that, who's complaining?

In a nod to the quicksilver pace of technological evolution, all the hardware is designed to be changed out and updated whenever necessary. Hewlett Packard's VP for innovation programs, Carlos Montalvo, says the exhibit is supposed to be something like a control room--a physical manifestation of the news "bubble" we spend most of our days in. "News unfolds organically now--it begins with one source, but quickly spreads," Montalvo says. "You no longer have single points of organization." The display boards allow visitors access to multiple sources of information, coming in through news sites, social networking feeds, and more, while also displaying the biggest digital news stories of the past few years.

Montalvo took us behind the scenes to the gallery's control room, which is essentially a handful of tiny projectors, a monitor, and a hard drive. In a year or so, it's possible the equipment will be even smaller. Does this make the exhibit as moving as, say, the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, or as visually shocking as the 9/11 display? Not necessarily. But it's at least a thorough acknowledgment of the changing nature of the news, and some impressive new technology to boot. "These phenomenons are evolving daily," says Montalvo. "Decision makers should be able to see and explore as much information as possible."

The HP New Media Gallery is on the Newseum's fourth floor. For more information, visit the Newseum's website.