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New York’s 9/11 Museum Encounters Some Publicity Problems

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The very nature of New York City’s 9/11 Memorial Museum, which opened this week to the public after a limited preview for survivors and victims’ family members, ensures that it will always be something of a magnet for controversy.

A couple of issues have emerged in recent weeks: the fact that the museum organizers decided to move the unidentified remains of more than 1,000 victims into the museum without letting families know ahead of time and that the museum includes a gift shop and will soon add a restaurant–which some families have attributed to “crass commercialism.”

The most recent instance of bad press concerns media relations: a reporter for NYC blog Gothamist was escorted from the premises this week for asking a question of a fellow attendee.

Jen Chung‘s post is well worth a read, but to sum it up: she saw a woman berating another for talking on a cell phone inside the museum (which is against the rules) and asked her why she had done it (which is also apparently against the rules).

Before the visitor could answer, Chung was approached by a series of three security guards who proceeded to escort her from the premises despite the fact that she had a press pass because “all press requests [have] to go through the media team.”

The museum’s VP of communications then responded to the blog’s queries by writing:

“If you go to our website, it clearly states that all media access has to be cleared through my office. I don’t recall providing Mrs. Chung a pass for reporting purposes.”

Chung subsequently admits that she would not have identified herself as a reporter had she read the extensive rules ahead of time, and everyone involved now argues “I was just trying to do my job.”

One can debate how appropriate the museum’s policy is forever, but stories like this one–and the criticism that comes along with them–will almost certainly continue to crop up.

In the meantime, the museum will continue struggling to balance its dual identities: a sacred space for reflection that’s off-limits to working journalists and a commercial entity.

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