Traditional media consists of all forms of communication used before the internet age, including radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, and billboards.
These media paved the way for today’s digital environment but were largely superseded by the affordances of the digital era. Nevertheless, they also came with their own set of strengths, such as their strong ability to gatekeep against misinformation (Thompson, 2011).
Traditional media are considered tried-and-true because they’ve been around for so long, but it can be hard to grasp just how prevalent these platforms were 20 years ago without living through it.
On one hand, traditional media boasted an enormous audience reach since it was not tied to a specific device or platform. A newspaper could be purchased from any corner store in any town, anywhere (Logan, 2010).
On the other, despite having large audiences, traditional media have limited interactivity since readers/viewers don’t have any opportunity to share feedback or engage with the editor other than writing a letter or making a call.
Traditional Media Definition and Overview
Traditional media refers to various forms of mass media communication that existed before the internet.
The definition generally includes print media such as newspapers, magazines and books, broadcast media like television and radio, and outdoor advertising in the form of billboards and posters (Logan, 2010).
Before digitalization took over, traditional media was the primary form of communication used to spread information or promote products and services.
Traditional media genres share some common features, including:
- Large Coverage Area: For example, billboards can cover an entire city while TV networks can stretch across a nation (Rajendran & Thesinghraja, 2014).
- Wide Net: Another significant attribute of traditional media is that it tended to target content towards wider audiences with diverse interests. For example, it would program toward news and sports broadcasting that are of interest to everyone within a geographical area (Logan, 2010).
- One-Way Communication: The broadcasters could send out information, but find it harder to get instantaneous feedback from consumers.
- Gatekeeping: The media were more well gatekept by a small number of producers. This upheld traditional media’s authority, but today, with a wide range of people producing news of a wider range of political views, traditional media is increasingly seen as having only presented a corporate or elite perspective for decades (Carr, 2012).
- Credibility: They had established themselves over decades and garnered significant prestige for their journalism.
- Geographical Orientation: Distribution tended to be to a geographical area, such as a nation, as opposed to many digital media that target niche communities worldwide rather than a geographical group (Logan, 2010).
10 Examples of Traditional Media
- Newspapers: The most widely recognized form of print media, newspapers have been around for centuries and reporting upon daily happenings. They’re printed on a regular schedule and provide large amounts of information on local, national, and international events.
- Radio: Radio is an electronic medium that broadcasts news broadcasts, music shows, talk shows or interviews. It’s cheaper than print advertisements since needing only one voice actor which can greatly benefit smaller businesses trying to reach wider audiences.
- Television: Television is an audiovisual medium that transmits content such as news programs, drama series, sitcoms etc. Although having drawbacks because of infrastructure and broadcast expenses, it was highly influential between the 1960s and 1990s.
- Magazines: Magazines tend to be more niche than newspapers, presenting articles on topics such as pop culture, sports, and health. Editorials tend to target specific demographics as thematic focal points.
- Direct Mail Advertising: Prior to email, we would check our mailboxes daily expecting new items or important documents, and would also receive ‘junk’ adverts. Today, direct mail infrastructure remains in place, but tends to be used for parcel deliveries rather than information dissemination.
- Billboards: This refers to large outdoor adverts set in strategic areas alongside roads, which remain in place to this day. Billboards can garner more money from advertisers if placed in locations where there’s significant foot traffic and can capture wide audience attention.
- Brochures: Brochures are mass-produced print materials distributed on the streets, pin boards, and in mail boxes. They are considered low-cost marketing alternatives to billboards or even digital adverts.
- Telephone Directories: Telephone directories were used to provide a catalog of businesses within specific geographical areas. The usage of directories has declined since digital advertising and web search became widespread.
- Mail Order Catalogs: Before Amazon and eBay revolutionized retail shopping with online purchases and easy deliveries, people utilized mail-order catalogs. These included ordered products targeting many customer categories with extensive product descriptions.
- Public Service Announcements (PSAs): These messages are aired primarily on broadcast television and radio along with occasional banners placed outside corporate storefronts or governmental offices to promote public safety initiatives aimed at health concerns, environmental issues and public wellbeing in the community.
Traditional vs New Media
Traditional media includes the mass media and forms of communications that existed prior to the internet. New media represents the forms of media that emerged during the internet era (Rajendran & Thesinghraja, 2014).
Whereas traditional media were produced for a wide audience and designed to cast a broad net, new media tend to be designed for highly-targeted online audiences (Logan, 2010). The internet and is algorithms allowed for new media to very accurately target exact demographics and niches.
New media also operates differently with its intent and impact criteria – they are interactive for viewers and cost-effective because of their exact targeting capabilities.
But perhaps most interestingly, new media allow just about anyone to be a media producer. This undermines the role of media gatekeepers (Carr, 2012). Now, anyone can share their views online through a social media platform or YouTube channel.
To better understand between tradition and innovation, below is a table showing a comparative analysis of the two:
|Aspect||New Media||Traditional Media|
|Definition||New media refers to digital platforms and technologies that facilitate communication, sharing, and dissemination of information. Examples of new media include social media, websites, blogs, podcasts, and online video platforms (Logan, 2010).||Traditional media encompasses non-digital communication channels, such as print (newspapers, magazines, books), broadcast (television, radio), and outdoor (billboards, posters).|
|Accessibility||New media is highly accessible through smartphones, tablets, and computers with internet connectivity (Rajendran & Thesinghraja, 2014).||Traditional media is accessible through physical copies or devices, such as TVs and radios (Logan, 2010).|
|Reach||New media has a global reach and can connect people across borders instantly (Logan, 2010).||Traditional media has limited reach and is often confined to regional or national boundaries (Rajendran & Thesinghraja, 2014).|
|Interactivity||New media’s greatest advantage is that it allows for high levels of interactivity, user-generated content, and real-time engagement, leading to an entire new media culture.||Traditional media offers limited interactivity, primarily through letters to the editor or call-in radio shows.|
|Targeting||New media enables precise targeting of audiences based on interests, demographics, and online behavior.||Traditional media targeting is less precise, relying on general audience demographics and interests.|
|Speed||New media is fast, with news, updates, and content spreading rapidly through sharing and virality.||Traditional media is slower, with information disseminated through scheduled broadcasts or print publications (Logan, 2010).|
|Cost||New media can be more cost-effective, with free or low-cost platforms available for content creation and distribution.||Traditional media often involves higher costs for production, distribution, and advertising.|
|Analytics||New media provides detailed analytics, helping content creators and advertisers track engagement, audience demographics, and other valuable insights (Logan, 2010).||Traditional media offers limited analytics, often based on surveys, circulation numbers, and viewer/listener ratings (Rajendran & Thesinghraja, 2014).|
|Credibility||New media can sometimes suffer from issues of credibility, with the spread of misinformation and “fake news.”||Traditional media, while not immune to credibility issues, is generally perceived as more reliable due to established journalistic standards and practices and strong gatekeeping requirements.|
|Lifespan||New media content can have a short lifespan, with information quickly becoming outdated or overshadowed by new content.||Traditional media content can have a longer lifespan, particularly in print, where information can be preserved and revisited (Logan, 2010).|
As evident from the above table, there is a significant difference in these two forms of media in terms of attributes and customer targeting.
Benefits of Traditional Media
- Credibility: Because they have been around for so long, traditional media sources such as newspapers and magazines have built up a sense of credibility among readers. They also tend to have stronger editorial standards. Many new media (e.g YouTube videos), by contrast, can be published by anyone with any bias, requiring enhanced media literacy in today’s media landscape.
- Tangibility: Print materials like newspapers, brochures, or catalogs provide customers with physical advertising that can be carried around and shared with others adding to customer outreach span.
- Wide Coverage: In the era of traditional media, large corporations consolidated power within nations and distributed their newspapers and television programs across entire nations.
- Expertise: Traditional medias employ professionals who are trained specifically in print or broadcast news, and tended to present information only under journalistic integrity standards.
Weaknesses of Traditional Media
- Lack of interactivity: Unlike online platforms that allow instantaneous feedback (such as comments and likes on posts), traditional media can’t get instant feedback from consumers. They often had to rely on ‘letters to the editor’.
- Limited targeting strategies (causing less effectiveness and value): While having a wide reach has its benefits, it also meant that specific audiences couldn’t be targeted. For example, a baby goods brand might want to only target parents, but with traditional media, will have to put up an ad that will be seen by everyone, not just parents. Today, that brand would likely simply advertise on a parenting website or YouTube channel.
- Cost Constraints: A traditional ad campaign requires a larger budget to cover the printing, publication, and creation of audio-visual content. This makes it expensive compared to online ads which permit market segmentation and rapid release to the market.
- Allegations of Media Bias: Since new media has provided access to a broader range of perspectives on social issues, people have started to believe that traditional media had a strong elite-corporate bias. While this accusation has been around for a long time (see: Herman & Chomsky, 2010), it has grown since independent new media has increasingly attacked the traditional media’s corporate narratives.
Traditional media has been in decline for decades, but continues to exist and have sway. Big newspapers like the New York Times are still known for their quality and what they report tends to garner widespread attention. Nevertheless, even the behemoths of the traditional media era have recognized the need to modernize, go online, and offer digitized ‘new media’ affordances for their audiences.
Carr, J. (2012). No laughing matter: the power of cyberspace to subvert conventional media gatekeepers. doi: International journal of communication, 6, 21.
Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2010). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Random House.
Kellner, D., Dines, G., & Humez, J. M. (2011). Gender, race, and class in media: A critical reader. New York: Sage.
Logan, R. K. (2010). Understanding new media: extending Marshall McLuhan. New York: Peter Lang.
Postman, N., (1985). The disappearance of childhood. Childhood Education, 61(4), pp.286-293.
Rajendran, L., & Thesinghraja, P. (2014). The impact of new media on traditional media. Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research, 22(4), 609-616.
Thompson, R. (2011). Radicalization and the use of social media. Journal of strategic security, 4(4), 167-190.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]