What’s “Media?” Time to Update Default Assumptions

Yesterday it occurred to me — as I heard about yet another “multimedia workshop” for journalists — how dated and useless the term “multimedia” has become. It’s now normal for media content types to be mixed. It’s also normal for anyone working in media to be expected to create and integrate various types of content (text, audio, photos, video, mapping/locative) as well as delivery channels (print, Web, radio, TV, podcast, social media, e-mail, SMS, embeddable, mobile applications, widgets, e-readers, etc.).

Ditto for the terms “new media” and even “online media”, which imply that channels other than print and broadcast are somehow separate or niche.

The best take on why it’s important to update and integrate assumptions about the nature of media (and how that affects news) is shown in this hilarious skit from Landline.TV:

Here’s where media is at today: In the current integrated media ecosystem, every print and broadcast organization has an Internet and mobile presence — and most of these now go beyond bare “shovelware”. Also, more and more of these organizations are distributing their content online first, making print and broadcast secondary channels (if not secondary markets). In contrast, most media outlets and public discussion venues that began life on the Internet do not have a print or broadcast presence. These vastly outnumber print and broadcast media outlets.

Consequently, when you consider the number and diversity of media outlets, print and broadcast media have become the exception — not the rule…

So it probably makes sense to start assuming that the umbrella term “media” now includes things like the Web, podcasting, and text messaging. This is the new default. It also probably makes more sense now to call special attention to “print media” or “broadcast media” by using those terms than it does to refer to “multimedia”, “online media”, or “new media”.

This is not a superficial matter of trendiness (which terms are “in” and “out”). Rather, it’s about updating default assumptions about what media is and how it works.

Viewing integration and distribution via multiple channels and content types as the norm, and specifying specifics as needed, is probably more useful and practical to anyone involved with making media these days. Reframing the issue in your head this way can constructively influence editorial and journalistic decisions, media business opportunities, and more.

I tweeted to ask whether I am the only person who thinks “multimedia” now sounds retro, and I got some interesting and fun responses:

  • Perry Hewitt: “Multimedia is beginning to sounds 90s like multipurpose room sounds 70s.”
  • Mark Gammon: “Funny, I had just thought that about multimedia a few days ago. Its day in the sun is waning for sure.”
  • David Stanton: “Absolutely. I really don’t like the term ‘multimedia’. Completely uninformative.”
  • Mary Maher: “No you’re not. And I’m thinking ‘new media’ and ‘2.0’ aren’t so right either…”
  • Joey Baker: “I’d gladly welcome a better term than ‘new media’ — got one?” (This triggered a fun conversation.)
  • Mactavish: “I remember our ‘multimedia’ library in seventh grade — books, tapes, LPs, and little filmstrip thingies!”
  • Daniel Bachhuber: “Ditto ‘online journalism’.”

(Thanks to David Cohn for the tip on the video.)

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