Why “media” keeps haunting us grammatically

David Carr knows better, of course.

So does David Brooks.

So do the editors who work with them at The New York Times.

Still, “media is” slips by them and into the pages of The Times. Carr’s column on Monday contained the passage at top, Brooks’s column on July 9 the passage at right.

There may have been others (the Media Decoder blog had at least one recent misuse), but these were certainly the most prominent.

I bring them up not to play a game of “gotcha” but to illustrate a larger point: Media as a plural has been eroding for years even as the forms of media – and the use of media – have grown in complexity. I can see an argument for using media as a singular in some cases, just as data is now accepted as a singular.

The plural is worth keeping, though. It not only reminds people that “the media” are not a monolithic entity, but it also helps keep the ghosts away.

Let me explain.

I see “media is” used frequently in student papers, largely, I think, because students see and hear that phrase so frequently. (In a Google search today, I found that “media is” was three times more common than “media are.”)

Media, of course, is the plural form of medium. Television is a medium. The Web is a medium. Newspapers are a medium. Collectively, they are media. So we say media are.

According to Dictionary.com, media as a singular emerged in the 1920s. That makes sense given that radio took shape as a mass medium in the 1920s, tabloids as we know them today began publishing in the 1920s and movie theaters began showing talking pictures. William Randolph Hearst’s media empire was in its heyday, and many of the newly formed radio stations were owned by newspapers. WGN in Chicago even took its call letters from the nickname of its owner, The Chicago Tribune, which had dubbed itself the “World’s Greatest Newspaper.”

In some cases that’s true. For the most part, though, the media is the press with fangs, bad breath, a cape and an insatiable thirst for blood.

That is, far too many people see the news media – every news outlet from The New York Times to CNN to NPR to the Drudge Report to Fox News to The National Enquirer to whatever celebrity gossip dribbles in through their cellphones – as a giant blood-sucking monster that preys on common folk.

When they say or write the media or the mainstream media, it’s usually with a sneer. Over the years, journalists have been demonized, especially by conservatives.

That makes it all the more important to remind our audiences that media (the word) is plural by writing “media are” or “the media are.”

Better yet, we should avoid the media altogether. (Just think of our friend the vampire.) It’s far too general a term. If we mean the news media, say the news media, or better yet, say news organizations or journalists or the press. It’s also hard to imagine new media as a singular – or old media for that matter – given the panoply of technologies the term covers.

The singular/plural issue is only one problem with the plural of medium. The other involves psychics and spirits and the great beyond. So don’t say mediums unless you really mean the mystics who claim to communicate with the dead.

I doubt that the people who named their company “Interactive Mediums” had séances in mind, but that’s certainly what it suggests. Then again, given that a medium claims to communicate with the dead, the term “Interactive Mediums” would be redundant.

Of course, sometimes, a medium challenges mediums to prove their abilities, in which case calling that medium (television in this case) the media seems apt.

What happens when the media use (yes, plural) a medium to test the veracity of mediums?

The mediums don’t stand a ghost of a chance.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...