Assignment: Exploring Audience Expectations

Audience,, in-class activities, news

Overview- Good writers adapt their material for their audience. Even if your purpose remains the same, your message will change when your audience changes if you want to deliver it effectively. A good way to see this in action is to explore the websites run by The Washington Post. The Washington Post is a nationally-renowned newspaper that provides information, analysis, and commentary on a wide range of topics.

We can see how The Washington Post targets different audiences by exploring three of their websites.
  1. The Washington Post
  2. Slate
  3. The Root
All three of these websites are owned by the same company, and all three of them have the same primary goal: to inform readers about current events.
Requirements- Go to each site and answer the following questions:
  1. What do you notice about the way each site looks? What colors do they use? Which one has the most words? Which one has the most pictures? How is the layout different for each site? How is it the same?
  2. What content is similar on each site? What content is different? Do you see differences in the amount of stories that are persuasive or informative?
  3. What do you notice about the advertisements on each site? Do you think the advertisements match a certain target audience?
  4. Who is the target audience for each site? How can you tell?
Teacher’s Notes- The Washington Post’s main site is laid out in a way to resemble a traditional newspaper, which helps to demonstrate that its target audience is more traditional. Slate, on the other hand, has far more pictures and moving parts. The navigation is very tech-heavy and more colorful. It’s clear that Slate‘s target audience is a younger, more tech-savvy crowd. The Root has a combination of text and pictures, but its layout is closer to Slate‘s. The Root is specifically targeted at an African American audience, and the content is strongly geared toward that perspective.
This could be a good starting place for a discussion about how writers meet audience expectations. It could also be a great place to start a discussion on how students themselves inhabit multiple audience spaces. They can think about the different magazines they read as a way to determine which audiences they belong to.
Additional Resources/Readings-
Another way to make this assignment more relatable is to compare it to local news outlets. For example, St. Louis has several news sites, and each one has a slightly different audience in mind.
St. Louis Post Dispatch– This website could be compared to The Washington Post‘s main website, as its layout and content is more traditional.
Riverfront Times– This website could be compared to Slate because of the higher ratio of images-to-text and the overall edginess to its content.
St. Louis American– This website could be compared to The Root because it is the companion site to St. Louis’ African American newspaper.
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