Almost a year ago I read an article on the New York Times website in which its Public Editor, Liz Spayd, made a an appeal for journalists to listen to readers in order to attract a bigger audience. In the article Spayd noted that editors and journalists used to reckon that they knew best what readers should be told. Now, she noted, the newspaper’s future depends upon building a larger, loyal, audience not only for words printed on paper but also displayed on its website and Twitter feed. She would probably also note the importance of getting those same readers to share the content they discover with their friends and relations.
To do that journalists need to listen to their readers – their audience – and discover what it is that they have to tell the newspaper about their interests, concerns and passions.
What is true of the major media players is equally true of the small guys. It is likely that smaller organisations will be closer to their ‘audiences’. Community groups and Churches will be likely to know their people well. There will be face-to-face connections. Even so, the authors of communication still need to know what it is that these close contacts and friends are passionate about. Why have they come to your communication stream and why do they come back?
Communication and media training needs to engage with the needs of audiences in order to enable course participants to do their job. Although audiences haven’t changed all that much in the last twenty years, the way they choose to connect with their favourite media outlets are very different. Few readers and listeners would have predicted the impact of the smartphone on media consumption. Fewer still would have predicted the impact of social media on access to news and current affairs.
Those of us working with the old gate-keeping organisations can ill afford to claim superior knowledge of what is good for the audience. If we ever could. We need to be listening a great deal more than ever – not just to the loudly voiced opinions but also to the quietly unspoken concerns.
Listen more and know less.