My husband Graham is a journalist who has mainly worked in public radio, for talk shows like On Point and The Takeaway. He gets dragged to a lot of city museums and I end up in a lot of conversations about the current state of news media. Usually our two fields feel very different, but every now and then we are reminded that they are actually very similar: we both work to engage and inform a public audience.
He made an interesting analogy the other day about an issue that museum folks grapple with a lot: are we temples or forums? I’m going to share it with you here in case it gives you a slightly different way of understanding the nature of our current debate. To paraphrase, he said:
Most of the time history museums seem to give their visitors all the answers. It’s like starting off an hour-long radio show saying, ‘We already have the answers for you; here they are.’ But the whole point of a public radio talk show is to say instead, ‘We have a lot of questions so we’re bringing in some experts to debate them, and if you call in you can debate them too.’
Do hosts like Tom Ashbrook, John Hockenberry, and Celeste Headlee provide a model for the 21st-century museum curator, facilitating conversations between experts and interested listeners/visitors? What could we borrow from public radio to improve our museums?