Journalists produce their work with the readers, listeners or viewers of the publication for which they work in mind. A journalist who works for the daily news organization in a town needs to understand the characteristics of subscribers. And if they work for a particular beat, for example, the business section, they need to understand what it is that readers of that section are looking for and how they would use the information they get.
Why does this matter? If journalists don’t create stories that inform and engage their audience those people will find other outlets to satisfy their information needs. Journalism serves not only a public need, it is also a business and a business without customers won’t be in business for long.
News organizations conduct user surveys and track audience behavior just as other kinds of companies do. The better journalists are able to understand their readership the better able they will be to anticipate and address their audiences needs.
Think about how the Miami Herald’s audience might differ from the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s (demographics, geographic, psychographic aspects) How might these audience characteristics influence a reporter writing about immigration for the Miami Herald versus the Star Tribune?
For those journalists who work as freelancers (defined by Merriam-Webster as “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer”) it is essential that they learn about the target audience for the publication to which they want to pitch a story. If they don’t understand the characteristics of the audience who reads Sports Illustrated versus The Atlantic, they will not be able to effectively position (or “pitch”) their story idea.
In the case of pitching a story idea, they need to understand that the publication’s editor is the ultimate decider on whether they get the assignment or not, and the editor’s ultimate concern is to keep the publication’s audience satisfied. In order for the freelancer to get the “gatekeeper’s” go-ahead on a story idea, they must demonstrate they understand who the target audience is for the publication and what will appeal to them.