Way back in 2006 Jay Rosen wrote about The People Formerly Known as the Audience. It was, and is, an important statement about the new role of the audience as contributor, producer, critic, etc. It built on ideas that were around for a while and coalesced them into a clean definition.
Now We Know “Them” As The Community
At the time Rosen wrote the piece, roles were in transition and required definition. But today I think the whole “formerly known as the audience” thing, is probably just as easily described as a community. The idea of community encompasses their importance as participants, creators, critics and in some cases even leaders. The community label is distinct from the earlier roles as audience, or reader. While most still do not participate, they are changed by the fact that they can. As Jeff Jarvis pointed out in a post today, we can’ even expect people to come to us anymore, we need to deliver things directly to them. His post shows the evolution of interaction with… what? He refers to them, once again, as TPFKATA, but what he describes is the interaction of a community.
You Read Differently if You are an Editor
When I give someone something to read, I often tell them: “don’t read it like you are an editor“. I know they will read it differently depending on what role I put them in. If I tell them to “proofread” they may not even pay much attention to the ideas. We are all changed by our ability to comment on, blog or tweet about, what we are reading. We are changed by the role and the capabilities that come along with it. We are no longer passive readers.
Community: Members and Non-Members
The simple idea of community also comes with idea of membership. The very existence of a community means that I have to define myself as having membership in the community or being outside of it. It’s a powerful concept. If I’m a member then I have certain rights and responsibilities. If I’m not, it doesn’t preclude my ability to comment or contribute (necessarily) but it will change the way I do. The “formerly known” idea doesn’t communicate this.
I think we can now do away with the idea of “the people formerly known as the audience” and simply refer to them as “the community”. The community includes people with varying roles who interact in different ways. The people who are still just “readers” are part of the community (although changed by it as I noted above); the unpaid contributors are community; the paid journalists are community; the editors are community. Of course when we refer to the community, we typically are referring to the people who have influence rather than direct control. In real life, when we say community, we mean the people who vote, the community organizers, but not the people who are directly in control i.e. the politicians and the bureaucrats. But we can easily extend the terms to include them as necessary.
Communities are interactive, social, cohesive, have shared beliefs or shared interests. They communicate, they have roles, responsibilities and rights. Communities intersect and overlap. In short, they better describe what were once “the readers” or “the audience”. Why use “the people formerly known as the audience” when “community” is more descriptive and is one word?