‘Pure journalism porn’: a tour of Portugal’s News Museum

The News Museum, Sintra, Portugal
The News Museum, Sintra, Portugal

The Lake District boasts a museum of pencils. In Kent, you can scuttle round a museum of crabs. If you’re interested in the history of lawnmowers – and who in their right mind wouldn’t be? – head to Southport, possibly at once. You can marvel at marbles in Devon, gawp at fleas dressed as Mexican dancers in Tring and whistle in admiration at the collection of rare dog collars at Leeds Castle in Kent, writes Jeremy Clay.

In all, the UK has an estimated 2,500 museums, showcasing everything from the highbrow to the lowbrow to the completely-shaved-off-to-win-an-ill-advised-drunken-bet brow. But a museum dedicated to journalism and the free press – that “precious privilege”, in the words of Gandhi, “that no country can forego”? Hmmm. For that, you’ll need to fly to Lisbon. And then get on a train and keep on going for 40 minutes more, until you reach the pastel-hued hilltop town of Sintra.

It’s a bonny place, Sintra, even when overrun with tourists. And while it’s entirely likely significant things have happened here, maybe none of them have happened since the days when men stopped yanking their trousers firmly up to their nipples. And yet that’s where you’ll find Portugal’s News Museum – the Newseum, surely, senhores e senhoras: c’mon, it’s an open goal.  

The centrepiece of the museum is a tower of TVs reaching to the top of the sun-baked three-storey building, which is designed to represent the Tower of Babel and the inverted pyramid of news every rookie reporter learns in class one, week one of journalism school.

Beside it, a glass lift takes you to the upper floor, alongside a streeeeettttcccccchhhhhy exhibit tracking the history of news from the 18th century to the turn of the millennium, which is a little like those marks in the doorway your parents made to measure your height when you were a kid. My, journalism! Haven’t you grown! It ends in 2000, so recent withering and shrinkage isn’t recorded.

There are virtual reality headsets to don, displays of comically clunky old TV and radio equipment to smirk at, galleries of historic splashes to revere/be repelled by and ethical games that challenge you to make choices journalists face each day. There’s also a tribute to the work of war reporters, complete with wall-to-wall footage of shock and awe, 1991 edition.

More cheerfully, you can also try your hand at a piece-to-camera, reading a script on Portugal winning the Euros, Prince William marrying Kate Middleton and the like. Excuse me a moment while I have a quick go. Uh-hun … Right … Okay … Oh … Ah.

Excuse me again, while I delete Become The Next Jeremy Bowen from my ever-diminishing list of alternative careers.

Even less successful was a small section on TV news fashion – outfits worn by a trio of female Portuguese news anchors, each from different eras. Maybe they could ditch that to make some room for displays about – I dunno – fake news, disinformation, the collapse of the traditional business model of journalism, swingeing cuts, declining trust, the rise of partisan TV news channels, the onward march of AI …

As it is, the museum feels a little in need of freshening up. It’s pure journalism porn, but given the nature of news, it needs to be about the now as well as the then.

At the end of the visit, the toilets stay true to house style with daft headlines on the cubicle doors and walls – Dead Man Found in Graveyard, and the like – but the gift shop goes off message with an array of generic Sintra stuff. The website promised natty little mugs bearing the slogan ‘I love the smell of newsprint in the morning’. There was no sign of them on the shelves. The woman on the reception desk seemed to think they don’t have them anymore. A pity, but kind of apt.

The News Museum in Sintra is open every day but Christmas, from 10am to 6:30pm. Entry for adults is €6.50. Lisboa Card holders go free.

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