If journalism is going to evolve to a savvier appreciation for ‘impact,’ its makers need to have a clearer idea of their target audience.
Like you would for any business, you need to know how big your market is, and you need to understand how hard (and necessary) it is to create that audience by acquiring new users — in this case, civic-minded residents.
Why not take municipal elections as a fair primer? I’ll use Philadelphia as an example.
- More than 1 million people are registered to vote in Philadelphia, 80 percent of whom are Democrat. (A quarter of the city’s 1.5 million residents are below 18)
- Almost 700,000 people voted in the November 2012 election, which was headlined by the national Obama-Romney battle and wasn’t so far off the 2008 campaign.
- Nearly 300,000 people voted in the hotly contested May 2007 Philadelphia mayoral primary [PDF].
- More than 100,000 people voted in the off-season dud of a May 2013 primary, though much of those votes were for single-vote candidate supporters.
Let’s generously say half of those who voted in the least active of local campaigns only do so out of habit or compulsion and aren’t truly interested yet in local public affairs reporting.
Even though I’d expect there to be a similar sized group of people who don’t live or vote in Philadelphia (or any big city) but are close or invested enough to follow its leadership conversation and think there are others who could be brought in, let’s say 50,000 people is a reasonable goal for community for a journalism-first publication in Philadelphia.
That said, getting the right people engaging can be a start and impacting elections on a local level could likely be had with regular audience of even a portion of the goal, say 10,000-15,000 people at a beginning. An organization aiming to have local impact could set their goals there.