Has the “audience” gone extinct?

I was intrigued by the post and discussion on James Garrows’ excellent blog The Face of the Matter about whether or not the audience has gone the way of the dodo and buggy whip. It’s not merely an academic debate, but I think a very real issue in how we think about communications today.

I’ve been busy preparing for a media training session, including on-camera media interviews, that I will be doing all day tomorrow. Haven’t done one of these in a while and it has caused me to think about what is different about the kind of media training required now vs. yesterday. That’s why I think this audience discussion is relevant.

I’ve also found it isn’t new. Here is a fascinating discussion on Jay Rosen’s Press Think about this topic under the title “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.”  This was written in June, 2006. Here’s one of many great comments and quotes: Jeff Jarvis, a former media executive, has written a law about us. “Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will.”

Audience does denote passivity. The picture is of a filled theater with people waiting for the show to begin. But what do you call a theater when the “audience” does all the performing? Some might call it performance art, most would call it chaos. And for many, particularly those in the media who have become accustomed to a tame, eager and largely passive audience, chaos hardly describes it. Maybe anarchy.

But, we have reality to deal with. Tomorrow, as I train some school administrators and board members, I will try and help them better prepare if they suddenly find themselves in front of a TV camera and some difficult questions thrown their way. Because that is still the reality of communications today. But I will also tell them, that much if not most of what goes on in an event that puts them in the spotlight doesn’t really involve the traditional media. In fact, there can be conceivably no involvement at all and still have a massive problem. There could be no active participation on their part, and still have an excellent response.

Things are just not as simple as they were before. We may still find ourselves in the front of the theater packed with people. Some will sit passively, waiting for our messages. Others will jump to the stage and try to take over the show. Still others will converse quietly with their own little group, paying only occasional attention to what we are doing and saying on stage. It’s not right to say there is no audience. But there is no question that the audience has gotten far more active, engaged and rowdy. It makes crisis communication and media training even more exciting.

One thought on “Has the “audience” gone extinct?”

  1. No more audience, we are all newsmakers. We always have been, we just haven’t had the ability to reach the world like we do today. The fence line gossip was a newsmaker too, except they only had one subscriber (at a time?)

    If everyone is a newsmaker (a message multiplier), the real issue is applying ‘classical’ media training to every conversation. Acknowledge the question, provide key facts, segue to your talking points. Do it with social media, individual queries, media interviews…

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