The people formerly known as the audience

Who's your audience? Photo: davidrbanta/deviantart
Who’s your audience? Photo: © David R. Banta

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 few ways they have traditionally done 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.
  • Analysis of Internet site visits, link clicks and the amount of time people spend with each story
  • 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 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). In radio listener surveys tell us a lot about the listening audience
    • Industry bodies (Federation of Commercial Televisions Stations – FACTS – and the ABS also conduct research on media consumption)

So analysis of clicks, site visits, viewing or listening habits and circulation 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.


The story starts before you say a word: Amy O’Leary on storytelling and feeds


Something scary to consider as we start to discuss #fakenews and the future of journalism, Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media, by Carole Cadwalladr (The Guardian)


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? Sites you might try:


Find a story or issue you consider newsworthy. Create an angle for that story that would appeal to readers of the following publications:


Take one of the stories from exercise 1 and tell it in a different way. You can tweet it in a thread, turn it into a drawing or illustration, tell it in cartoon form, make it into a meme – anything you like.

A simple example:

Written news story: Racist Serb fans torment Brazilian footballer Everton Luiz (BBC News)

Retold in video by Al-Jazeera and shared on Facebook and other social platforms

Before you start, try to define your audience (you may be aiming for an audience very different from the site your chosen story was published on). Explain WHY you think your story idea will interest and engage the target audience.

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!

2 thoughts on “The people formerly known as the audience”

    1. Hi David – thank you for contacting us – I have changed the credit as requested, and also emailed you to make sure it’s ok to still use the pic (which is awesome). We absolutely support all creatives on the web, and want always to respect copyright.

      To clarify: when we first posted this in 2014, the photo was on deviantart under a CC licence, yes. It is not our intetion, ever, to rip off the work of photographers and artists.

      Thanks again for the heads-up – happy to remove the photo if you prefer.


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