‘Old Media’ – Not Dead Yet

Like the ancient phoenix of Egyptian and Greek mythology, some leading traditional media outlets are rising from the ashes and breathing new life into today’s mobile and digital world of news consumption. However, due to the perpetual hype surrounding the proliferation of social media, traditional media (print, TV, and radio) often appears cast aside as the shunned stepchild in today’s high-tech Information Age.

Yet despite a conspicuous shift in the media landscape, tens of millions of Americans still consume news that is originally reported and produced by traditional media (old media or legacy media) — especially leading news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Fox and the “Big 3” national news networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). Thus, while it remains important to focus on maximizing social media, today’s public relations (PR) practitioners and professional communicators should also not forget about traditional news media — which still plays a vital and influential role in journalism, albeit on a diminished scale.

Digital News Transformation

Meanwhile, many small to mid-sized newspapers have been forced to close shop due to plummeting readership and advertising revenue, while others have joined the dash to digital.

Old media continues to transition and transform by leveraging digital, mobile and social platforms to compete. Interestingly, many leading national newspapers, like the New York Times, now have higher digital readership compared to hard copy editions. This is fast becoming the norm. Meanwhile, many small to mid-sized newspapers have been forced to close shop due to plummeting readership and advertising revenue, while others have joined the dash to digital. Even influential national weekly magazines with once large print circulations have made the leap to digital only, including Time, Newsweek and National Journal (to name just a few).

However, public interest in news and current events is still high, according to a recent Pew Research Center study on The Modern News Consumer;

News remains an important part of public life.”

– Pew Research Center
  • “More than seven-in-ten U.S. adults follow national and local news somewhat or very closely – 65% follow international news with the same regularity.”
  • “Fully 81% of Americans get at least some of this news through websites, apps or social networking sites…”
  •  “And, this digital news intake is increasingly mobile. Among those who get news both on desktop computers and mobile devices, more than half prefer mobile.”

Millennials & Mobile

The trend toward news consumption via digital media (new media) is not just happening in the professional world, but also on major college campuses nationwide. This is due to the ubiquitous digital presence of #Millennials and Generation Z who are on their smart devices for countless hours every day. For example, the 106-year-old independent student newspaper at the University of Maryland recently switched from a daily print circulation to online news only — actually, I think the print version is still published once a week. I cut my proverbial teeth at the top-rated Diamondback newspaper as a writer and editor. After graduating, I founded an online alumni group here on LinkedIn.

The Pew Research Center highlighted this trend in a 2014 report, State of the News Media:

News is a part of the explosion of social media and mobile devices, and in a way that could offer opportunity to reach more people than ever.

Yet despite the “Wild West” environment of online news, it’s important to note that traditional journalism still supplies the bulk of legitimate and trusted news content, regardless of the medium by which news is consumed. Nevertheless, more and more Americans are getting their news online, according to a more recent Pew Research Center study. Further, the younger one is, the more likely that person consumes news online versus offline. This recent Pew Study also points out some interesting habits of today’s so-called “very loyal news consumers” which appear to buck the digital trend:

  • “Americans are split on whether they feel loyal to their news sources – but behaviorally, they tend to stick to the same sources anyway.”
  • “The very loyal follow news at much higher rates than others: 67% follow it all or most of the time, compared with 45% of the somewhat loyal and 32% of the non-loyal.”
  • “The very loyal are also more likely to trust national and local news organizations and think they do a good job informing people…”
  • “And they are also heavily reliant on TV; 54% of very loyal news consumers prefer to get news from TV. No other platform comes close. Among the non-loyal, however, there is a much wider mix of preferred platforms including more weight towards digital sources when compared with the very loyal.”

What’s Old is New

As Pew points out, citizens are increasingly consuming traditional media via popular social, mobile and digital platforms. For example, while I still receive a hard copy edition of the Washington Post delivered each morning — yes I’m a proud Gen Xer — I consume most of my news via Twitter and other social platforms that link to long-form articles by traditional media outlets. Moreover, many social media platforms have partnered with leading traditional media to offer legitimate news content — as opposed to so-called “infotainment.” A good example of this trend is Facebook Instant Articles, not to mention LinkedIn, Snapchat and other platforms that are republishing everything from Business Insider to Bloomberg News. According to Pew, more Americans today are getting their news through social platforms:

  • “A majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media, and 18% do so often, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.”
  • “In 2012, based on a slightly different question, 49% of U.S. adults reported seeing news on social media.”
  • “Facebook is by far the largest social networking site, reaching 67% of U.S. adults.”
  • “The two-thirds of Facebook users who get news there, then, amount to 44% of the general population.”

Popular regional newspapers, such as the once venerable New Orleans Times-Picayune, have transitioned to a 24/7 online presence only. But the same news staff which provided award-winning breaking news coverage of historic Hurricane Katrina has since been slashed. The brick-and-mortar newsroom of the Pulitzer Prize-winning print edition was shuttered in favor of a more nimble and streamlined virtual news environment. Nevertheless, even as small and mid-sized newspapers die off, traditional media still accounts for a significant amount of news consumption by older Americans (especially Baby Boomers) and global audiences.

Those obtaining news on social platforms are still consuming some or most of that news from traditional media outlets via those platforms.

The Takeaway

How people consume news today is a fluid and evolving process. That’s why it’s important for corporate communicators and PR pros to be mindful of the similarities and differences in news consumption on traditional media and new media, especially social media.These tectonic plates of old media and new media continue to overlap and shift, disrupting journalism as we once knew it.

This media evolution is causing a high-magnitude earthquake within the so-called Fourth Estate.

That’s why practitioners of strategic communications must adjust accordingly to stay ahead of the curve. Sometimes it can feel like a juggling act. Millennials and Gen Z entering the fields of journalism, PR and media relations appear obsessed by social media alone, for better or worse. But regardless of their infatuation with social media, professional communicators of all generations should strike the appropriate balance of leveraging new media versus old media to maximize positive coverage and enhance their organization’s brand image. In essence, how much longer can the phoenix of old media survive in today’s high-tech and frenetic new media environment?

What do YOU think?



David B. Grinberg
David B. Grinberg
David is a strategic communications consultant, ghostwriter, and literary PR agent on issues of workforce diversity, equal employment opportunity, race and gender equity, and other social justice causes. He is a former career spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where he managed media relations for agency headquarters and 50 field offices nationwide for over a decade. Prior to his public service at the EEOC, David was a young political appointee for President Bill Clinton in the White House: Office of Presidential Personnel, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB). A native New Yorker and University of Maryland graduate, David began his career in journalism. You can find David online via LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, Good Men Project, Thrive Global, BIZCATALYST 360°, and American Diversity Report.

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