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WASHINGTON

For someone who has spent his life in newspapering, the Newseum is a fine place to while away a couple of hours. But it's impossible to be here and not to think about how much has changed for media companies.

This is Washington's celebration of journalism from a simpler time — before technology and an economic recession changed the world.

The Newseum is a family sort of place with lots of visual and interactive displays. Aiming to appeal to a wide audience, it manages to be informative without being controversial.

With galleries named for corporate sponsors — NBC and Comcast, the New York Times, Bloomberg, News Corp. and more — the Newseum also manages to be too commercial for its own good, but this seems to be the price of being in the museum business these days.

The Newseum means to offer something for everyone, and it succeeds most of the time.

Here, you can see the evocative: a chunk of the Berlin Wall, the 9/11 gallery, a profile of Edward R. Murrow.

And you can see the quirky: the Unabomber's cabin, the door from the Watergate burglary, photos of presidents with their dogs.

At the Newseum, there are interactive newsrooms and TV stations where students can simulate the daily work of reporters. There's a television studio, movie theaters and conference spaces.

There's memorabilia from recent presidential campaigns, Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, and the famous same-day posting of front pages from newspapers all the over the world. (At newseum.org, you can see more than 800 front pages from 84 countries.)

Surveying one day's pages, it was striking how often U.S. newspapers featured local and regional stories. With dozens of sources providing world and national news, local papers are discovering that hometown news is their bread and butter.

Nearby, the sixth-floor terrace offers a spectacular view down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.

At this point, I suppose it's ungrateful to mention that this celebration of journalism offers very little guidance about the future of journalism.

One small corner of the third floor is assigned to a rudimentary discussion of the Internet. "The truth, now more than ever," the signs says, "is that anyone can make news — and you don't have to be a journalist to do it."

Putting aside that anyone can make news by robbing a bank, what the author meant to say, I think, is that you don't have to be a professional journalist to post a news photograph to Twitter or write a blog that can reach people all over the world.

This is true, but it doesn't help very much.

What we know is that a revolution in technologies is fragmenting the ways people receive information.

If you're like me, you have friends who can't live without a newspaper and friends content to gather their news online. And each group of friends seems surprised to learn that not everyone shares their reading habits.

This is the challenge to media entrepreneurs, big and small — design business models that satisfy audiences that may be aligned by age group, geography, topic, political point of view or method of delivery.

Do you want to receive your news and opinion on newsprint? Or on a computer, tablet or smartphone? Or maybe all of the above?

Do you want to receive your news via Facebook or Twitter? Or a subscription list? Or from a news aggregator? From a liberal cable channel or a conservative one? Do you want audio, or video, or words to be read on a page or a touchscreen?

The mind boggles at the permutations. Life was a lot simpler when everyone read the same newspaper and watched the same three or four television stations.

Many people have come to expect that online information will be free.

It won't be. In a digital world, free may work for some kinds of information, but serious journalism isn't one of them. Like people who work in every kind of enterprise, the people who gather, report and edit the news rely on their salaries to feed their families and pay their mortgages.

To keep up with the times, media companies will keep re-inventing themselves.

Consider how this newspaper has come full circle — locally owned for more than 100 years, then owned by a large public corporation (the New York Times Co.) for 27 years, now locally owned once more.

After several tough years, the financial performance of at least some media companies is improving, the Economist reported earlier this month.

The magazine pointed to upticks in circulation revenues and stock prices, the buying of newspaper companies by the investment guru Warren Buffett and the growing returns for newspapers that impose online paywalls.

New applications for tablets and smartphones, the Economist noted, make news content more attractive to online readers as well as to readers eager to purchase print and digital editions bundled as "all-access" subscriptions.

All this might suggest that consumers are catching up to the most basic of propositions, which is: Something of value usually has a cost associated with it.

It's always been true that people will decide the quality and breadth of the news they receive. In a decade or so, we can return to the Newseum to find out what they decided.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.