We can all agree that before writing anything that you intend to publish, it’s vital to have your audience in mind. Doing so defines the choice of style, language and content. But how can you really know your audience? And what if you get it wrong?
I came across an article recently which provides an example of this exact blunder. Earlier this month, the New York Times published “Housewares the way God intended them”, an article by writer Cintra Wilson. In it, she criticised American department store JCPenny, offending many people as it was widely deemed condescending. Fashion/celebrity/gossip blog Jezebel blogged about the controversy in the article “NYTimes Issues Apology For Cintra Wilson Article” saying:
In the Public Editor column, Clark Hoyt notes that…the entire brouhaha brings up “an issue that The Times and other news organizations sometimes struggle with: What is the difference between edgy and objectionable? “Times Editor Bill Keller attempts to answer this question by noting that “The key, I guess, is to imagine that you are writing for an audience with a broad range of views and experiences, and to write with respect for them.”
It is a trap, I suppose, that anyone who publishes anything online falls into at times: you think you know your audience, only to find that your audience may extend farther than you’d imagined. For the Times, this seems to be an ongoing theme: the completely tone deaf articles the paper continues to spin out about the plight of millionaires during the recession (“How to I host a dinner party on only $2000?! What will I do with only 8 homes?!”) aren’t doing them any favors.
While the Times learned their lesson with this one, what hope do us lowly bloggers have? How can we know we are reaching our – perhaps imagined – audience? And what if we’re posting stuff that simply doesn’t interest them? If we’re lucky, a reader will leave a comment to that effect, but I reckon most would just leave the site and never come back. So what then?
On a side note, Seattle now has the coolest vending machine ever – one that sells books! Let’s cross our fingers they install one in Southern Cross Station!