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What is 'New Media' (redux)


[I earlier this week wrote that:

    The radical changes the newspaper industry needs to implement arise from a more true understanding by that industry of why newspaper readership began declining well before the Internet was opened to the public; about why one billion people worldwide have gone onto the Internet after it was opened to the public (they didn’t do it to read traditional media on computer screens), and about why all that plus the misnamed and illusionary ‘fracturing’ of media audiences requires semantic solutions.

At the root of that problem is a misunderstanding about what the New Medium actually is; a misunderstanding by almost all companies that broadcast programs or that publish newspapers or magazines.

I’ve long been reluctant to explain this misunderstanding only because I’ll need a long post to explain it. This is that post, a new version of my 1998 essay What is New Media? (which is currently being taught in the journalism, film, technology, and game design courses at several universities in North America and Europe). It’s 3,200-words long, but I consider it the most important thing I have ever written except for the original essay. I need to have this new version online because I plan to refer to it in future postings, specifically those about what radical changes that media companies need to implement.]

Misunderstanding ‘New Media’

A newspaper isn’t a medium, nor are newspapers media. Magazines aren’t media nor is a magazine a medium. Television isn’t a medium nor is radio nor are radio or television stations media. A website isn’t a medium nor is the Internet media.

Companies that broadcast programs or that publish newspapers or magazines are having problems understanding and adapting to why and how one billion consumers are now using Internet-based technologies to receive news, information, and entertainment.

Those companies have the problems simply because they misunderstand the meaning of media or medium. It is that starkly simple. Their misunderstanding of these terms– not the new technologies that consumers use — is the root of the companies’ problems.

Ask their executives if they work in the ‘Mass Media‘ (the Mass Medium) and they will be correct if they reply yes. But almost all will take that a step further — a misstep — and say that their broadcast, newspaper, or magazine is a medium.

Rhetoricians and cognitive linguists refer to that extra step as metonymy: the use of a well-understood or easy-to-perceive characteristic of something to stand for either a much more complex whole or for some aspect or part of it. (Another example of metonymy is use of the name Hollywood to describe the entire film industry worldwide)

Broadcast and publishing executives mistake Mass Media as a catchall phrase for all possible media, as if no other medium can exist except as a Mass Medium. Moreover, they extend this mistaken meaning of medium to cover their own broadcasts or publications.

So entrenched has the contemporary misunderstanding of the terms media and medium become that the mistake limits the abilities of most publishing or broadcasting executives to comprehend what exactly is a medium or the media in which they work.

So, what are media, what is a medium?

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