Appelbaum says that the museum must “do justice to [journalists’] passion. So if it works for journalists, then I think it’s really accomplished its goal.” But the Newseum is, in the end, a museum for the nonprofessional—which may be more apt than we find comfortable. After all, as the Newseum itself suggests, journalism is becoming a profession of the amateur, from the growing army of bloggers to the student who used a cell-phone camera to photograph police storming the site of the Virginia Tech massacre. Not everyone applauds these trends, of course. One interactive kiosk asks visitors whether bloggers are “important to the future of journalism.” Of those previewing the museum, only 50 percent said yes.
Still, in casting journalism as a heroic profession, the Newseum may be less intent on pandering to its corporate sponsors than on inculcating visitors with their own responsibility, as heirs to a noble tradition. Its message: You, too, can cover the news. Maybe you will. So pay attention. Be prepared. And for the sake of our democracy, please don’t screw it up.