5 Differences Between Old and New Media

04/13/2016 11:27 am ET Updated Apr 14, 2017

The last time you learned of breaking news, how did it happen? Did you visit the homepage of your favorite news site with a cup of coffee in hand, or did you notice it while scrolling through your social media feed while lying in bed with your smartphone? According to a study by Pew Research Center, "75 percent of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites while 52 percent say they share links to news with others via those means."

Old media (print, radio and TV) are becoming second-tier commodities in favor of new and "improved" ways of consuming the news such as social platforms, blogs and apps. Sites like BuzzFeed have mastered the platform-specific approach to media, and the onset of brand journalism has completely changed what it takes for us to "trust" a source.

That said, there are a ton of differences between old-media practices and new-media strategies. Here, I examine five differences between how legacy media companies and newer entities operate.

1. They measure success differently.

Today's models of success are more complex. Media outlets are no longer relying on one or two metrics to drive their businesses, but several. For example, many new-media entities are focusing on platform-specific metrics such as social shares, how long someone watches a video, and reader dialogue. Instead of "teasing" the content on social-media platforms, aiming to drive the reader back to a publication's main site, newer media companies like Refinery29 publish their content where their readers are already spending their time.

Facebook's Instant Articles feature, which has been available to publishers for nearly a year, presented new opportunities for platform-specific publishing (although the ins-and-outs of how this feature affects publishers' ad revenue is still a bit debatable).

2. New-media companies place more emphasis on community building.

If you build it, they will come, right? There are many new journalism roles that focus on community development: Growth Editor, Audience Development Manager and Distributed Content Editor are just a few. What they all have in common is that they open up opportunities for building long-term loyalty among readers. New-media companies take a lot of pride in the characteristics of their communities, especially when the general vibe is positive.

In an interview with Gawker, BuzzFeed Books Editor Isaac Fitzgerald shares his unique approach to book reviews, one that revolves around shedding light on the notable and not wasting time with pointless, negative critique. There's an inherent optimism coming into play with new media that challenges some of the ways of the past -- at least when it comes to certain niches.

3. Celebrities aren't just in the news. Now, they're creating it too.

Lenny, a new media site owned by Hearst Communications, is the brainchild of actress-writer-director, Lena Dunham, and Girls Producer Jenni Konner. Lenny's content often covers leftist and feminist viewpoints, even sharing celebrity op-eds such as a piece by actress Jennifer Lawrence that explores why her male co-stars make more money than she does.

Actress-musician Zooey Deschanel co-founded Hello Giggles, a women's lifestyle publication with an aspirational, quirky (Deschanel-like) spin. After growing in popularity, the site was acquired by publishing company Time Inc. for $30 million.

4. New media sites = new revenue channels.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow's newsletter-turned-lifestyle site, goop, dishes out everything from parenting advice to detox recipes. The site also sells merchandising, all approved by Paltrow, via its shop section. To be fair, though, selling a product that appeals to a publication's audience isn't a brand new concept, but it is becoming more common and more organically woven into the reader's experience.

POPSUGAR Must Have, a subscription gift box curated by POPSUGAR Founder and President Lisa Sugar, is another example of a new media entity putting its strong branding efforts to work in the merchandising department.

5. Old media and new media view mobile-friendliness differently.

It's the difference between considering apps a distribution channel and creating content with a mobile-first mindset. There are tons of magnificent news apps out there, from NYT Now to Quartz, but some newer companies are taking it a step further by developing content to be consumed specifically on a smartphone or tablet. This is not a "news app" by any means, but a company called Stela is developing a collection of brand new, digital comics to be consumed specifically on a smartphone or tablet. You can only get the content through the app, so there's great potential for appeal by way of exclusivity.

But there isn't a winner or loser in the old-media-versus-new-media debate. Think of it, rather, as an evolution driven by technology and today's highly niched online communities. Where we consume news has shifted, how we interact with the media has changed, and the publications that embrace the new digital landscape are the ones that will be excited about the future not disheartened by it.