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Why the distinction between “new” media and “traditional” media is pointless, and a little dangerous.

Save 20% on your pass to Blog World with the coupon BWELA20Since the development of the Internet and the World-Wide-Web, there's been this peculiar distinction between “old”, or “traditional” or “mainstream” media and the “new” forms such as blogs, podcasts, Internet radio, and video sharing, such as seen on services like YouTube. It's time we all stopped thinking this way. As the “new” media have taken root, and as the masses have adopted the Internet as their primary source for news and entertainment, these distinctions no longer make much sense. The Internet and Web have become the mainstream. Print, Radio and Television are rapidly becoming outlyers.

What, after all, is the REAL difference between an article printed in an old-style newspaper or magazine, and one published on a web-page or blog? The only real difference (leaving aside qualitative questions for a moment) is the means of distribution.

Does viewing video on a computer screen really differ that much from tuning in to the nightly news on television? Again, the primary difference is the mode of transmission. The same can be said of radio. Listeners to podcasts and Internet radio differ from radio listeners, mostly in the devices used to listen.

The fact is, the “old” media have already realized that in order to continue to be relevant, and (perhaps) commercially viable, they have to embrace these new means of distribution. Newspapers, publishers, television stations and networks, and radio outlets have all added the “new media” equivalents to their old-school paradigms So, the distinction is one without a real, meaningful difference.

Content is still content. If it's good, it draws an audience. In old-media, there were only a few channels, one-or-two local newspapers, so they didn't have to try very hard. Even ‘bad' material managed to find an audience due to limited choice. With the deveolpment of new technologies, audiences have access to a much wider array of choices, and can consume the programming they desire, rather than what's served up by a handful of information curators (called editors or publishers). Because of technology, the playing field is more level than ever before. Anyone with some information, some ideas, and a minimum amount of access to technology can create and publish content and find an audience.

But, from the social, business, and legal perspectives the so-called “new” media are really just an evolution of the way media content is consumed. Yes, they're “new” in the sense that they've only recently become available, but in all other respects, they're still just media, and the same rules apply (or should) to the the producers.

The real trouble is that so many content creators are doing so not professionally, but as a hobby. The danger in this is that these content producers are subject to the same laws, regulations and (arguably) ethical guidelines as the pros. But unlike “big” traditional media, many are not equipped with the resources to defend lawsuits that arise from the publication of their content. So their voices can be stifled, by a simple threat letter or an unjustified DMCA takedown notice. Some have suggested that hobbyists shouldn't be held to the same standards as professionals. Others argue that hobbyist bloggers shouldn't be afforded the same protections given to ‘real' journalists. Bunk.

Content creators need to know the rules, the ropes and the techniques they can use to minimize their risk, avoid liability, and bypass the pitfalls that can confound them. They also need the same protections as old-school content creators. The first amendment was designed to permit, and even encourage the voicing of minority and unpopular views. It's one of the things that makes America great. Free speech and press protections must not be limited to only those speakers that are deemed ‘worthy' by those in power. That's exactly what the first amendment is about.

I'll be expanding on all of this in my upcoming presentation: “Don't let your content land you in legal hot water” as part of the BlogWorld New Media Expo being held in Los Angeles, November 3-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The expo is packed with top thought-leaders who'll be presenting on myriad topics that relate to making, distributing, marketing and monetizing blogs, podcasts, online video, and the like. The trade-show floor is likewise a must-attend. If you're a new media producer, whatever your medium, blog, podcast, video, or even if you work primarily in “traditional” media, you owe it to yourself not to miss this important conference. I attended last year, and it's terrifically fun, too!

Join me at the BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Los Angeles, Nov 3-5, 2011!

My talk will be held at 12:15-1:15pm on Saturday, November 5th, as part of the digital broadcasting track. I hope you can join me. I'll be giving away a few copies of my book “The Podcast, Blog, & New Media Producer's Legal Survival Guide” (ebook available at (hardcopy available at and

Save 20% when you register for BlogWorldExpo in Los Angeles, Nov. 3-5, 2011.

4 Responses to Why the distinction between “new” media and “traditional” media is pointless, and a little dangerous.

  1. Dear Gordon, greetings. Thank you for your article.

    I am a member of the “old guard” who over 35 years has run major performing arts centers such as New York’s City Center, currently or previously have represented significant artists from Basil Twist to Marcel Marceau, and have recently added academia to my portfolio having joined the Graduate Arts Admin faculty of the Univ of New Orleans. I must respectfully say that while I don’t disagree with you about the importance of developing good quality material for websites, etc. I feel you are fundamentally incorrect in your claim that there is no difference in the application of social media to marketing culture compared to past communication options. What is already abundantly clear are two changes that are fundamental in the way our society perceives and consumes cultural offerings: a) that the relationship between “suppliers” and “consumers” has shifted from one-way to far more of a two way dialogue than was previously possible, and b) that “consumers” are increasingly reliant on sharing of observations and opinions from peers in making their consumption decisions and less dependent on the media “experts.”

    Secondary changes are c) the dramatically increased speed at which an event or show can “go viral” and be discussed, and d) the democracy of access to information by any and all events and not only those that the traditional media chooses to cover.

    Point (a) above has been borne out in a number of studies suggesting that the paternal – and often patronizing – role of arts centers post WWII and through much of the 20th Century is breaking down and no longer the operative model. Point (b) parallels very much the model by which most people now choose a restaurant or select a dishwasher wherein shared consumer experience takes priority in forming opinion (see the popularity of Yelp to give just one example).

    I would strongly encourage you to review the results of an in depth national survey titled “How strong is your social net?” that has been conducted over the past year by New York based Trudel/MacPherson Arts Consulting which will be formally presented at the upcoing National Arts Marketing Conference in Louisville next month (http:,// You may also wish to check in with a company such as Situation Interactive (www,situationinteractive,com) which is a good example of a next generation approach to bridging the outmoded advertising/public relations distinction.

    While I am not qualified to speak on the legal implications of any of this, I can assure you that you are incorrect in your assertion that social media is not revolutionizing marketing with respect to culture in our society. I would encourage you to review your position with care before your November presentation in LA.

    Thank you for allowing me to comment on your article. I would be happy to discuss this further if you would care to as it is a topic of considerable interest to me.

    With best regards,

    Tony Micocci
    President, Micocci Productions LLC

    Professor, Graduate Arts Administration
    University of New Orleans

    • Thanks for your comments Tony,

      I’m not sure where in my post you see the “assertions” you’re challenging.

      I never said that social media wasn’t a game-changer. My point is that the distinction between “old” and “new” media isn’t needed anymore, at least not from a legal standpoint. Nowadays, with the reduction or elimination of barriers to entry, everyone can be a “publisher” or “producer” of content. Anybody who creates or distributes content, regardless of media (old or new) needs to take seriously the risks attendant to what they’re doing, and implement protocols to minimize risk and avoid liability.

  2. great piece, really great piece. when you read magazines, blogs etc on the “new” technology like an Ipad it looks like the “traditional” but more interactive and beautiful.

    • I think you make an important point,Ryan.

      First, this is a great piece, Gordon. Insightful and intelligent as always. Nice job. It is a point I’ve found myself making in several private conversations lately. In fact, in June I had a post in my own blog about digital media no longer being “new,” just different.

      Ryan makes the point that the real differentiator is interactivity, and I think that’s correct. What separates one medium from another is the time and effort needed to respond or take action.

      In this case I simply tapped the screen of my tablet and started typing. If Gordon had written a newspaper article instead, aside from the fact that I probably would not have seen it, it is doubtful that Ryan or I would have taken the time to respond.

      The magic of the new media environment is the ease with which the dialog occurs.

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