‘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!