80 16.1 Changes in Media Over the Last Century

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the types of new media.
  2. Identify how the Internet has affected media delivery.
  3. Explain why new media is often more successful than traditional forms of media.

Life has changed dramatically over the past century, and a major reason for this is the progression of media technology. Compare a day in the life of a modern student—let’s call her Katie—with a day in the life of someone from Katie’s great-grandparents’ generation. When Katie wakes up, she immediately checks her smartphone for text messages and finds out that her friend will not be able to give her a ride to class. Katie flips on the TV while she eats breakfast to check the news and learns it is supposed to rain that day. Before she leaves her apartment, Katie goes online to make sure she remembered the train times correctly. She grabs an umbrella and heads to the train station, listening to a music application on her smartphone on the way. After a busy day of classes, Katie heads home, occupying herself on the train ride by watching YouTube clips on her phone. That evening, she finishes her homework, e-mails the file to her instructor, and settles down to watch the TV show she digitally recorded the night before. While watching the show, Katie logs on to Facebook and chats with a few of her friends online to make plans for the weekend and then reads a book on her e-reader.

Katie’s life today is vastly different from the life she would have led just a few generations ago. At the beginning of the 20th century, neither TV nor the Internet existed. There were no commercial radio stations, no roadside billboards, no feature films, and certainly no smartphones. People were dependent on newspapers and magazines for their knowledge of the outside world. An early-20th-century woman the same age as Katie—let’s call her Elizabeth—wakes up to read the daily paper. Yellow journalism is rife, and the papers are full of lurid stories and sensational headlines about government corruption and the unfair treatment of factory workers. Full-color printing became available in the 1890s, and Elizabeth enjoys reading the Sunday comics. She also subscribes to Good Housekeeping magazine. Occasionally, Elizabeth and her husband enjoy visiting the local nickelodeon theater, where they watch short silent films accompanied by accordion music. They cannot afford to purchase a phonograph, but Elizabeth and her family often gather around a piano in the evening to sing songs to popular sheet music. Before she goes to sleep, Elizabeth reads a few pages of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Separated by nearly a century of technology, Elizabeth’s and Katie’s lives are vastly different.

New Media

Traditional media encompasses all the means of communication that existed before the Internet and new media technology, including printed materials (books, magazines, and newspapers), broadcast communications (TV and radio), film, and music. New media, on the other hand, includes electronic video games and entertainment, and the Internet and social media. Although different forms of mass media rise and fall in popularity, it is worth noting that despite significant cultural and technological changes, none of the media discussed throughout this text has fallen out of use completely.

Electronic Games and Entertainment

First popularized in the 1970s with Atari’s simple table-tennis simulator Pong, video games have come a long way over the past four decades. Early home game consoles could play only one game, a limitation solved by the development of interchangeable game cartridges. The rise of the personal computer in the 1980s enabled developers to create games with more complex story lines and to allow players to interact with each other via the computer. In the mid-1980s, online role-playing games developed, allowing multiple users to play at the same time. A dramatic increase in Internet use helped to popularize online games during the 1990s and 2000s, both on personal computers and via Internet-enabled home console systems such as the Microsoft Xbox and the Sony PlayStation. The Internet has added a social aspect to video gaming that has bridged the generation gap and opened up a whole new audience for video game companies. Senior citizens commonly gather in retirement communities to play Nintendo’s Wii bowling and tennis games using a motion-sensitive controller, while young professionals and college students get together to play in virtual bands on games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. No longer associated with an isolated subculture, contemporary video games are bringing friends and families together via increasingly advanced gaming technology.

The Internet and Social Media

It is almost impossible to overstate the influence the Internet has had on media over the past two decades. Initially conceived as an attack-proof military network in the 1960s, the Internet has since become an integral part of daily life. With the development of the World Wide Web in the 1980s and the introduction of commercial browsers in the 1990s, users gained the ability to transmit pictures, sound, and video over the Internet. Companies quickly began to capitalize on the new technology, launching web browsers, offering free web-based e-mail accounts, and providing web directories and search engines. Internet usage grew rapidly, from 50 percent of American adults in 2000 to 75 percent of American adults in 2008 (Pew Research Center, 2010). Now that most of the industrialized world is online, the way we receive our news, do business, conduct research, contact friends and relatives, apply for jobs, and even watch TV has changed completely. To provide just one example, many jobs can now be performed entirely from home without the need to travel to a central office. Meetings can be conducted via videoconference, written communication can take place via e-mail, and employees can access company data via a server or file transfer protocol (FTP) site.

In addition to increasing the speed with which we can access information and the volume of information at our fingertips, the Internet has added a whole new democratic dimension to communication. Becoming the author of a printed book may take many years of frustrated effort, but becoming a publisher of online material requires little more than the click of a button. Thanks to social media such as blogs, social networking sites, wikis, and video-sharing websites, anyone can contribute ideas on the web. Social media has many advantages, including the instantaneous distribution of news, a variety of different perspectives on a single event, and the ability to communicate with people all over the globe. Although some industry analysts have long predicted that the Internet will render print media obsolete, mass-media executives believe newspapers will evolve with the times. Just as the radio industry had to rethink its commercial strategy during the rise of TV, newspaper professionals will need to rethink their methods of content delivery during the age of the Internet.

New Media versus Traditional Media

New technologies have developed so quickly that executives in traditional media companies often cannot retain control over their content. For example, when music-sharing website Napster began enabling users to exchange free music files over the Internet, peer-to-peer file sharing cost the music industry a fortune in lost CD sales. Rather than capitalize on the new technology, music industry executives sued Napster, ultimately shutting it down, but never quite managing to stamp out online music piracy. Even with legal digital music sales through online vendors such as Apple’s iTunes Store, the music industry is still trying to determine how to make a large enough profit to stay in business.

The publishing industry has also suffered from the effects of new technology (although newspaper readership has been in decline since the introduction of TV and radio). When newspapers began developing online versions in response to competition from cable TV, they found themselves up against a new form of journalism: amateur blogging. Initially dismissed as unreliable and biased, blogs such as Daily Kos and The Huffington Post have gained credibility and large readerships over the past decade, forcing traditional journalists to blog and tweet in order to keep pace (which allows less time to check that sources are reliable or add in-depth analysis to a story). Traditional newspapers are also losing out to news aggregators such as Google News, which profit from providing links to journalists’ stories at major newspapers without offering financial compensation to either the journalists or the news organizations. Many newspapers have adapted to the Internet out of necessity, fighting falling circulation figures and slumping advertising sales by offering websites, blogs, and podcasts and producing news stories in video form. Those that had the foresight to adapt to the new technology are breathing a sigh of relief; a 2010 Pew Research Center report found that more Americans receive their news via the Internet than from newspapers or radio sources, and that the Internet is the third most popular news source behind national and local TV news (see Section 6.3 “Current Popular Trends in the Music Industry”) (Pew Research Center, 2010).

Pay-for-Content: Will It Work?

Critics of the pay-for-content model point to the failure of Newsday, a Long Island, New York, daily that was one of the first nonbusiness publications to use the pay-for-content model. In October 2009, Newsday began charging readers $5 a week ($260 a year) for unlimited access to its online content. Three months later, an analysis of the move indicated that it had been a total failure. Just 35 people had signed up to pay for access to the site. Having spent $4 million redesigning and relaunching the Newsday website in preparation for the new model, the owners grossed just $9,000 from their initial readership.

However, the lack of paying consumers may be partly accounted for by the number of exceptions granted by the company. Subscribers to the print version of the paper can access the site for free, as can those with Optimum Cable. According to Newsday representatives, 75 percent of Long Island residents have either a newspaper subscription or Optimum Cable. “Given the number of households in our market that have access to Newsday’s website as a result of other subscriptions, it is no surprise that a relatively modest number have chosen the pay option,” said a Cablevision spokeswoman (Koblin, 2010). Even though most Long Island residents have access to the site, traffic has dropped considerably. A Nielsen Online survey revealed that traffic fell from 2.2 million visits in October 2009 to 1.5 million visits in December 2009. Publishing executives will be watching closely to see whether The New York Times meets a similar fate when it adopts the pay-for-content model in 2011.

New media has three major advantages over traditional media. First, it is immediate, enabling consumers to find out the latest news, weather report, or stock prices at the touch of a button. Digital music can be downloaded instantly, movies can be ordered via cable or satellite on-demand services, and books can be read on e-readers. In an increasingly fast-paced world, there is little need to wait for anything. The second advantage is cost. Most online content is free, from blogs and social networking sites to news and entertainment sources. Whether readers are willing to pay for content once they are used to receiving it for free is something that the The New York Times set to find out in 2011, when it introduces a metered fee model for its online paper. Finally, new media is able to reach the most remote parts of the globe. For example, if a student is looking for information about day-to-day life in Iran, there is a high probability that a personal web page about living in that country exists somewhere on the Internet. Around three-fourths of Americans, half of Europeans, and just over one-fourth of the world’s population overall have Internet access (Internet World Stats). This widespread reach makes the Internet an ideal target for advertisers, who can communicate with their desired niche audiences via tracking devices such as profile information on social networking sites.

Key Takeaways

  • Traditional media includes printed materials (books, magazines, and newspapers), broadcast communications (TV and radio), film, and music. New media includes all forms of communication in the digital world, including electronic video games, the Internet, and social media. The Internet has added a social aspect to video gaming that has bridged the generation gap and opened up a whole new audience for video game companies, including senior citizens and families. The prevalence of the Internet in modern daily life affects us in nearly every way, from how we receive our news, to the way we do business, conduct research, contact friends and relatives, apply for jobs, and even how we watch TV.
  • New media frequently trumps traditional media for three main reasons: It is more immediate, it is often free, and it can reach a wider number of people.


Review the traditional and emerging forms of media. Then answer the following short-answer questions. Each response should be a minimum of one paragraph.

  1. Think of three examples of traditional or new media. What are the advantages of each type of media? What are the disadvantages?
  2. Which of these types of media has been around the longest? Which is the most modern?
  3. How has the Internet affected the delivery of other types of media?
  4. Do you believe that new media are more successful than traditional forms? Why or why not?


Internet World Stats, “Internet Usage Statistics,” http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm.

Koblin, John. “After 3 Months, Only 35 Subscriptions for Newsday’s Web Site,” New York Observer, January 26, 2010, http://www.observer.com/2010/media/after-three-months-only-35-subscriptions-newsdays-web-site.

Pew Research Center, “The New News Landscape: Rise of the Internet,” March 1, 2010, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1508/internet-cell-phone-users-news-social-experience?src=prc-latest&proj=peoplepress.

Pew Research Center, Internet User Profiles Reloaded, January 5, 2010, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1454/demographic-profiles-internet-broadband-cell-phone-wireless-users.


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