New rules for media or online museum communications?

I read these new rules for media first on Tony Walker’s fantastic blog ABC Digital Futures and then went straight to the original source – Mark Glaser at Mediashift.

Mark’s rules might at first seem only relevant to journalists and such, but the mere fact that museums are now engaged in online communications using their websites means that the rules also apply to us in a general sense. So, what I’ll do is take Mark’s rules and offer a museum perspective on what they mean for us more specifically. (Apologies to both original sources for a tad of borrowing.)

1. The Audience Knows More Than the Journalist: Rather than being a one-to-many broadcast, museums now must understand that they are just part of a much larger conversation that is networked and constantly evolving. So, replace “Journalist” with “Curator” (or historian, etc.) and you get the message. Our audience probably also has something valuable to contribute. A great topical example is the post we put up regarding HMAS Sydney’s recent discovery and the community’s contribution to that story. It has proved very popular and offered a perspective that we simply could not provide alone.

2. People Are in Control of Their Media Experience: The people are taking control and watching, and listening to what they want when they want. Making sure that we, in museums, provide content that is suitable for multiple platforms and entry points is critical. Increasingly, we will need to provide an option for content suitable for consumption on mobile devices.

3. Anyone Can Be a Media Creator or Remixer: But it still takes skills to use those tools and stand out from the millions of others who are doing the same thing. In a way, museums already do stand out as trusted sources of high quality content, but we need to balance what we do with regard to Rule #1 to ensure our position is not compromised here. As I’ve said here before, the big advantage we have is the content we can generate and provide online, particularly through our digitisation programs. Just facilitating conversations using fancy new technologies probably isn’t going to be enough for us to sustain an audience.

4. Traditional Media Must Evolve or Die: The evolution that traditional museums must make online is not just in adding new features; we must change our mindset, ideas and methods to new ways. Many of our old processes are now completely irrelevant or redundant in this environment and hanging onto them has seen others bypassing us and finding new ways to search our content and collections, describe it, promote it, provide access to it, etc. Many traditional research journals are now either dead or dying and in Australian we’ve seen the death of the formerly popular Bulletin magazine. Maybe we need to look at some of our more traditional publications and move them online too. We also need to think up and use different methods for commerce in the online environment if we need to charge for services provided.

5. Despite Censorship, The Story Will Get Out: This isn’t just about censoring news stories; it also applies to new technologies like peer-to-peer file-sharing. Maybe we need to see these new technologies more as potential friends, than enemies. A good example is LOCKSS which uses peer-to-peer technology (as I understand) to safely share and store digital assets.

6. Amateur and Professional Journalists Should Work Together: The reality now is that professional curators/historians and amateur collectors, enthusiasts and historians can learn from each other and the new social media platforms not only allow this to happen, they facilitate the conversations much more readily.

7. Journalists Need to Be Multi-Platform: Museum professionals need to learn how to make best use of a host of skills to reach different audiences. I think most of us need to be familiar with digital cameras, scanners, digital recording equipment, and online technologies such as wikis, blogs, social bookmarks, RSS, tagging, mashups, social networks & collaborative technologies. We can’t just expect to engage with physical visitors nor those who come directly to our web front page.

I reserve the right to add more examples and thoughts to this post as they arise.


  1. adam

    It’s easy to proclaim that traditional media will die but harder to work towards it’s evolution. The obvious changes are in the technology but what about the content? The risk is that considered, peer reviewed text is not published in favour of blogged/twittrd/video content. Ebook readers (eg amazon kindle) that are online will contribute as much to the evolution of media as video enabled handheld web devices and are an important consideration for institutions whose business it is to publish text.An addition to rule 7: curators and historians need to be journalists. Rather than an organisation employing ‘ghost-bloggers’, the professionals need to be online, participating in blogs and collaborating on wikis under their own identities. To be a journalist within the organisation means making news from the work that you and you’re colleagues already do.Media strategy is shifting. Organisations are typically reactive to current affairs and spend a lot of time pitching media opportunities to the agencies. But now does it matter? The organisation can publish whatever it likes in any format and make sure it’s properly attributed, captioned and not surrounded by distracting and irrelevant messages. Become your own news agency – deliver the content and build the tools that allow agencies to syndicate the material.

  2. Liz

    I agree with the point on Rule 7 – I don’t think we can continue to sit back and decry things like wikipedia when we have it in our power to make a difference to them. The media organisations are moving online and are now crying out for content – they are operating 24 hours news rooms, and anything real is valuable to them. If we in museums are writing our stories, citing the sources etc as Adam says, then we are in a good position to be a source for the media organisations.The one thing the rules miss out is that people expect to be able to contribute in a variety of ways, and to find and get digital content. That expectation will grow, and we need to be ready to meet it.

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