How to teach Audience

Media would not exist without audiences. Yet the media have to compete for people’s attention and interest; and finding and keeping an audience is not easy. Producers might imagine they know what different groups of people will want, but it is often hard to explain why some things become popular and others do not. People also use, interpret and respond to media in very different ways. A given media text will not mean the same thing to everybody. Understanding and reflecting on our own and others’ uses of media is therefore an important part of media education.

simpsons220 Audience

What we are likely to discover is that in order “to question the media” (to engage with this interrogative activity), we also have to develop our own understanding of and position in relation to the structures of power and subordination in our societies. It means that we must develop the courage to interrogate our identities, politically and psychologically…. How we perceive the relationship of power and subordination in our societies will impact considerably on the ways in which we approach the study and conceptualization of the audience.
Robert Ferguson, The Media in Question, 2004

Different people experience the same media message differently. Audiences play a role in interpreting media texts because each audience member brings to the media text a unique set of life experiences (age, gender, education, cultural upbringing, etc.) which, when applied to the text-- or combined with the text-- create unique interpretations. A World War II veteran, for example, brings a different set of experiences to a movie like Saving Private Ryan than any other audience member--resulting in a different reaction to the film as well as, perhaps, greater insight.

Even parents and children watching TV together do not “see” the same program. This concept turns the tables on the idea of TV viewers as just passive “couch potatoes.” We may not be conscious of it but each of us, even toddlers, are constantly trying to “make sense” of what we see, hear or read. The more questions we can ask about what we are experiencing around us, the more alert we can be about accepting or rejecting messages. Research indicates that, over time, children of all ages can learn age-appropriate skills that give them a new set of glasses with which they can “read” and interpret their media culture.

Read a summary of the Key Questions
and some Examples for Students

Source: 2003 Center for Media Literacy Literacy for the 21st Century / Orientation & Overview
Source: Buckingham, David: Questioning the Media: A Guide for Students.