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Northwestern Faculty’s New Book Provides ‘An Exhaustive Look’ at Audience Formation

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

When you decide you want to watch a movie, how do you decide which one? Do you go to the recommendations on Netflix? The selection on Amazon Prime? Or do you ask your Facebook friends for suggestions? Perhaps a better question is: which method of choosing a movie is most likely to lead to the best choice? If you’re unsure, you’re not alone.

And it’s that uncertainty that Northwestern professor James Webster gets at in his new book, The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age. Webster will be teaching a course this fall in the new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. His new book “takes an exhaustive look at the research about how such audiences form. Or rather, how audiences are formed,” according Ann Friedman, who reviewed the book for the Columbia Journalism Review.

She writes that what Webster “argues quite convincingly is that even if users do have some idea of what news and information they want (and it’s not entirely clear they do), they don’t know how or where to find it.” So what happens when users don’t know how to find what they want? They become easier to manipulate with the use of algorithms and the biases inherent in their social networks. “An audience,” Friedman writes, summarizing Webster’s argument, “is not something that exists on its own. It must be constructed.” Webster’s fall course will dive into the relationship media companies have with audiences, and how big data plays into that relationship.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, James Webster will discuss his new book with Stacey Schulman, Executive VP of Strategy, Analytics, & Research at Katz Media Group in New York at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle room 3-417 with a reception to follow in the third floor atrium. For more information, click here.