As little as 10 years ago, when you talked about "media" there were really only three possible things being discussed: television, print (newspapers and magazines) and radio. Nowadays, we use that "media" definition in a much broader, looser context, and things that would have never been considered "media" in the past are at the forefront of how we consume information.
That's not necessarily bad. It's just different.
For example, I personally can't think of a single news item that I've learned about in the past year from TV, print or radio media. My main source of breaking news is social media -- Facebook, primarily. My friends on Facebook even beat the apps on my iPhone and email alerts that I get, sometimes by as much as half an hour.
In no way does that mean I'm less educated about current events or the news that matters to me -- a key distinction that I'll talk about more in a future blog post -- simply because Facebook is a dominant news source for me. In fact, I would argue that I'm actually MORE informed about what's happening in the world BECAUSE I have an army of friends on social media who help me learn about new things.
Plus, by the time the nightly local news airs or the newspaper gets thrown on my neighbor's wet lawn (I don't subscribe to the printed version anymore), I've already read everything on the topic that they're reporting, but I did it on my iPad hours earlier through various other online sources, including sites like Huffington Post.
Sure, many of the social media posts, news alerts and other online sources are linked back to a "traditional" media outlets website or blog, so I'm not saying that they, as organizations, have no value. But, to my earlier point, neither a their websites or blogs actually fit into the original definition of "media" either.
Think of a recent big, breaking news story -- for example, the plane crash in San Francisco, the discovery of those women in Cleveland who were held prisoner in the run-down house or a major Supreme Court verdict. How did you find out about it? Most likely, on your computer or your smart phone.
More importantly, how did you keep up with it? I remember back in the "old days" (a funny thought, considering I'm only 38), we'd huddle around a TV in the office conference room to watch the story unfold. Now, we all stay at our own computers, bouncing from website to blog to social media for the latest details. Frankly, turning on CNN is the option of last resort to me.
So, what actually IS media? Today, media is everything. Here in Dallas, it's still the 10 o'clock news and the Dallas Morning News>, but it's also countless blogs, email newsletters, Facebook updates, tweets, websites, iPhone app alerts, text messages from friends and organizations... and the list goes on and on.
I joke with clients that there used to be only four or five things you could even do to publicize something, and you only really needed to do two of them well to be considered a PR superstar. Now, there are countless options, outlets and approaches you can take to promote a client, and you have to be good at a dozen of them to even be considered a decent PR pro.
For those who work in public relations and the companies and clients they represent (or who do their own PR for their small businesses), this presents a huge challenge, but an even bigger opportunity... and that's what I find most exciting.
Cooper Smith Koch is the founder of Cooper Smith Agency Public Relations, the PR firm in Dallas he founded in 2002. The firm specializes in media relations, social media and organic product placements.