The people formerly known as the audience

Who’s your audience? Photo: davidrbanta/deviantart

The audience is an important determinant of news – it’s logical that news of interest to some people isn’t to others. Journalists need to know what their audiences want and need to know.

There are a couple of ways they do this:

  • Gut instinct – aka news sense, or a nose for news; understanding what makes a story. Part of this is really knowing the criteria of newsworthiness and how they work together – it does become instinctive eventually. You can ONLY refine your news sense by reading.
  • Research, conducted by media industry and other groups. Research can tell industry what audiences say they want. It can also provide statistical data about what audiences read, watch, and listen to.
    • Web sites: private companies such as Nielsen and Roy Morgan measure audience participation for media outlets
    • Newspapers and magazines: circulation – sales audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations
    • TV and radio: less exact – ratings are compiled using sample groups and diaries, but are also increasingly collected using digital technology (electronic measurement devices attached to broadcast receivers)
    • Industry bodies (Federation of Commercial Televisions Stations – FACTS – and the ABS also conduct research on media consumption)

So circulation and ratings figures provide broad statistical data on audience – they can show how many, when, who, and where the audience consist of. But statistics don’t address why people watch, read, or listen to particular media or what they get out of the experience. For this, industry turns to focus groups – small groups of people chosen to represent specific segments of the audience. They’re asked about media consumption habits, and what they want.

The audience is not just readers, listeners, or viewers! They are members of specific demographic groups, whose value is predicated by their importance to advertisers.

Basic demographics are:

A-B: ‘white collar’ educated professionals

C:  Clerical workers

D: Manual workers

E: Students and the unemployed

Rethinking The Audience

Media analysts and educators believe the Internet and social media have changed relationships between audiences and journalists. Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press (AP), told his staff: “The users are deciding what the point of their engagement will be — what application, what device, what time, what place.” NYU J-school professor Jay Rosen calls it “a new balance of power” (in The people formerly known as the audience, link below). You are already self-publishing (here at TAFE on WordPress) and disseminating news via social media, using Facebook and Twitter to share news (and gossip!), and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Instagram to publish images.

READ: Jay Rosen: The people formerly known as the audience; The Elusive Audience, by the University of Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy; OzTAM’s TV ratings process.

WATCH: The changing relationship between journalists and their audience, by Kingston University’s Maria Ahmed:

EXERCISE 1:Read the news on a selection of different websites and choose some stories to discuss. Which newsworthiness characteristics does each story have? Which is the most common? Who is the likely audience for each of the stories? Can you find stories which might have originally been a contribution from an audience member, or ‘citizen journalist’? Sites you might try:


Imagine you’re a freelancer. You’ve been asked for story ideas for the following media organisations (follow the links):

Before you start to think of ideas for each site or publication, who do you think the audiences might be? On your blog, write a post including a description of each publication, an estimate of its audience, and one story idea (or more if you like!) for stories which might reach the intended audience. Then explain WHY you think your story idea will interest and engage the target audience. Will they have an opportunity to contribute, via comments, or on social media? If they do, will you respond? It’s worth thinking about the fact that for every topic you write about, there’s someone out there who probably knows more about it than you do, so try to think of creative ways to acknowledge the input of interested, smart people (aside from interviewing them for your story in the first place!)

This exercise is designed to get you thinking creatively about targeting a specific group of people, and ensuring your ideas and your style of writing, photography, video – or whatever medium you choose to tell your story – engages those people. Have fun!


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