We have plenty of evidence to instruct us on what audiences want from journalists. While marketers might have us bow to audience expectations, journalists allow audience expectations to inform news judgment, not drive it.
The number one predictor of public radio usage is a college degree. Simply put, smart people are attracted to our service. Here are some things they are after:
- Information: a surveillance of what is happening around them, both near and far. They want news so they can color-in their understanding of the world. The key to serving this need is delivering factual material in proper context.
- Interests: something that adds directly to their career knowledge or their special interest. We respond with specialists and guide users to more sources.
- Discovery: news that appeals to their sense of curiosity or wonder. Stories of science and research, for example. We also aim for discovery when we ask original questions and feature original thinkers.
The emotional needs of well-educated people are congruent with a strong sense of self and a low tolerance for emotional manipulation. Still, they seek what many people seek from media:
- Security: a comfort that comes from having authoritative information delivered calmly. It includes the comfort that comes from reliability and consistency in scheduling and content… and being there when needed.
- Companionship: the human connection. Radio is regarded as an intimate medium because it is experienced personally. Authenticity and warm presence of the radio voice is crucial in making this connection. People grow attached to familiar voices.
- Enjoyment: the basic pleasure that comes from being immersed in a story, laughing at life, treated to certain sounds (mental images) and good writing. There’s an entertainment aspect to our work that relies on artistry, craft and wit.
The public radio listener has developed an acute sense of what it is to be an actualized human being, civilized and contributory. Perceptive radio news helps reinforce one’s role in the world:
- Involvement: the information that includes one in a societal context. Paying heed to what gives us a sense of place or belonging.
- Control: cedes consequences to listeners who have the freedom to choose and act on their own. They might be consuming in an economy, or voting in a democracy, or simply thinking for themselves. Our job is to deliver the truth; “the people” translate that into action.
- Shared Values: reinforces what is ethical and discerns between right and wrong. Shared values are fundamental to “issue-oriented” coverage because they force us to face conflicting principles.