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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011

2 - The political news audience

Summary

How many people watch, read or listen to political news? This is an important question because it influences everything about the way elections are reported. If no-one wants to follow political news, then media organizations (especially commercial ones) have little incentive to devote resources and time to it. Even if the media generate the best political journalism in the world - however this is defined – what is its value if no-one is paying attention?

Most theories about the media and politics assume that media audiences need information and opportunities to participate politically. The media are seen as crucial for delivering this and for facilitating the formation of public opinion, ideally through universal access and an unfettered flow of information and ideas (Habermas 1989). Yet this view may not necessarily fit with how media audiences see themselves and their media use, or with how news producers conceive of their audiences.

Media organisations place great significance on market research and audience profiling. However, while they seem to know a good deal about their audiences, they cannot always predict their desires or satisfy them; some of the key allegations of poor political reporting stem from claims that news producers do not understand their audiences as well as they think they do. According to some critics, news producers underestimate their audiences' information-processing abilities and overlook their democratic needs. Yet others imply the opposite: that news producers know their audiences only too well and pander to their ‘worst’ instincts.