4.12 Who’s the Audience for News?

A man reading a newspaper

Luis Wilker Perelo WilkerNet : CC0 Public Domain

In some ways, the audience for journalistic messages is the most concrete and pre-determined of the three communications professions’ work. Journalists write for publications or produce reports for media outlets that have a great deal of information about their subscribers or viewers. With the ability to track digital readership, journalists know what articles people read. At the start of the message analysis process journalists must ask a set of questions about their target audience that will help them identify the treatment of the topic about which they will be writing and make decisions about the kind of reporting they must do.

Understanding the audience that uses the publication or media outlet for which they are producing a news report will help clarify some of the following questions:

  • WHO: Who reads / views the publication? Who would be interested in this topic? Who needs to know about this topic? Who is the media organization interested in attracting with its offerings?

  • WHAT: What would the potential audience member want to know about the topic? What kind of report would be most informative or helpful for the audience? What kind of information will be useful? What does the audience already know about this?

  • WHERE: Where else do people interested in the topic find information? (For freelancers) Where should I pitch my story idea?

  • WHEN: When does the audience need to get this information (is this fast-breaking news, or something that will be used as analysis after the event?)

  • WHY: Why does the audience need to know this? Why does the audience care? Sometimes the audience member just wants to fill empty minutes with a news message (reading news briefs on a mobile device while standing in a line or eating alone at a restaurant). Sometimes the audience member needs to answer a specific question (who won the baseball game this afternoon? when does the movie start?). Each of these “why” questions suggests a different strategy for the communicator.

  • HOW: How can we best communicate to the audience? How much background do they need to understand what we are writing about? How technical can we be? How might the audience react to this report?