It’s commonplace for students of writing or public speaking to be told that knowing their audience is an important element of the communication process. Obviously, if you’re writing a piece for Convicted Felons Monthly, you’re going to make different choices than if you’re putting together a story for Blessed Be: A Magazine for Cloistered Nuns.
Similarly, anyone who wants to write persuasively for an audience of Republicans would be ill-advised to use the word “asshole” to describe Ronald Reagan in the opening sentence.
But, like most of the easy advice on how to write well, it ain’t easy following that prescription about knowing your audience. It’s easy to fall into that trap of assuming too much about readers, as in that old maxim that we’re likely to make an ASS out of U and ME whenever we ASS-U-ME anything.
I’ve been writing this column for the Synthesis for maybe a year now, and when I sit down to fashion about 500 words for the edification of readers, I usually assume an audience of Chico State students, people young enough to be my grandchildren sitting around a pizza parlor reading this publication distractedly while waiting for their orders to come up.
That’s probably a faulty assumption for two reasons: a) I almost never see young people reading things while they wait for pizza, and b) it’s much more likely they’re peering into a handheld device while ignoring the people sitting across the table from them. That’s how they roll. Or so it seems to a guy my age.
I’d also assumed that the typical reader of the Synthesis was probably a little unconventional, young, goth-tinged, and disinclined to vote Republican. Judging from the hate mail I’ve been getting, however, it seems that either there are lots of skinhead types reading what were once considered to be marginalized alternative press publications, or else the Synthesis has getting passed around at lots of Tea Party gatherings where cranky old fascist farts spike their blood pressure by reading my words each week.
Some people have suggested that nobody at all reads the Synthesis, but I know that’s not true based on my hate mail alone. Besides that, at least one of my pieces got picked up on Alternet, an online syndicate that has lots of readers who prefer not getting newsprint on their fingers, but who don’t mind swiping those same grubby digits over the face of their electronic devices a gazillion times a day. And an outfit back in New York called The Smirking Chimp picks the column up just about weekly, exposing it to an audience of left wingers who are usually more kind to it that the cranky readers who seem compelled to write in at the Synthesis website most weeks.
All of which is to say I’m puzzled about just who the hell is reading this stuff. What IS the Synthesis demographic, anyway? You can’t all be Tea Party putzes, can you?