‘Digital’ media or ‘online’ media?

By Steve Outing

A reader of one of my recent Editor & Publisher Online columns takes me to task for using “digital” rather than “online” to describe what we used to call “new media.” He prefers “online” as more accurate.

Actually, I’ve shifted my word usage to “digital media” on purpose, and think I’m correct in doing so.

“New media” is on its way out, for obvious reasons. Publishing online really took off in the early to mid 1990s, and that term was appropriate perhaps through the ’90s. I’ll admit to using it into the 2000s but probably should have given up on the term a long time ago.

The trouble with “online media” is that it, to my mind, implies the state of your PC constantly connected to the Internet via an ethernet cable or wi-fi. But it doesn’t really work to describe mobile devices like phones or e-readers (e.g., Amazon’s Kindle), which increasingly are supplementing or even replacing the PC as Internet access devices and retrieve data from the Internet on-demand.

Can a mobile phone used for e-mail, instant messaging, web browsing and search, etc. really be called “online”? I don’t think so, unless I’m sitting with my iPhone and picking up a wi-fi signal. When I’m traveling on the highway and my phone only has access to the cell network, can you call that “online”?

So for now I’m sticking to “digital media,” with the belief that it’s a broad enough term to cover most everything that we now publish to (other than print and remaining analog TV and radio).

What do you think?

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

5 Responses to "‘Digital’ media or ‘online’ media?"

  1. Christopher Ryan
    Christopher Ryan 8 years ago .Reply

    “New Media” on the way out? It strikes me as a constantly-evolving concept — one that developers are always trying to keep up with. It’s a search, not a destination.

  2. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Christopher: Good point; there will always be “new media” as technology and how people use it to communicate evolve. I was thinking more in terms of how many writers continue to use the term “new media” when talking about the web, which is long overdue for use of another term.

  3. Steve Groves
    Steve Groves 8 years ago .Reply

    “Digital Media” is the correct terminology IMHO. As you’ve suggested, “online” implies a constant state of connectivity, which is no longer needed given how much data can be loaded onto portable devices in a short period of time before going offline again. Digital is what remains constant across all of these new platforms for news delivery.

    Mind you one day soon saying “digital media” will be like us saying “paper media” today; it will be far to generic to be meaningful. Everything will be digital.

  4. […] “Digital” media or “online” media?: Steve Outing asks and answers a semantic question. Though I don’t lose much sleep over terminology anymore (alert colleagues reminded me I had a 1995 vocabulary moment in a recent meeting, referring to a “hot link.” How embarrassing!), I tend to apply “digital” to anything handled by bits, bytes and pixels, and “online” to anything pushed or pulled via the Internet. Just about everything online is digital, but not everything digital is online. Even much-maligned mass print production is a digital process almost all the way to the transfer of ink to paper. […]

  5. Thyagarajan S
    Thyagarajan S 4 days ago .Reply

    Yes, if Internet used for a media purpose, it is online media. Even mobile device when not able to connect Internet says “you are offline” :-)

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