When will we learn that “media” is not a singular word?

media (2)


In this morning’s edition of the Boston Herald, the following headline appears:

“Adriana Cohen: The media has lost its marbles.”

Nothing remarkable about that, right? A conservative newspaper is complaining about the mainstream media. So what else is new?

But there’s a problem with the headline. It uses the word “media” as a singular.

When I studied Latin in a Catholic school some 60 years ago, “media” was said to be the plural of “medium.” But things have changed over the decades.  I read somewhere the other day that the use of the word “media” as a singular has become so widespread that it’s now considered grammatically acceptable.

Well, it’s not acceptable to me. It’s a Latin word, and it’s plural.

As I’ve argued here on previous occasions, using “media” as a singular (“the media is….”) only invites the notion that the media are a monolith. They’re not. There are all kinds of media, many of which differ from one another in numerous respects.

And yet, even journalists whom I otherwise respect are often heard to use “media” as a singular. Their bosses should order them to be more careful about that.

Let’s consider, for example, the widespread complaint among political conservatives that the mainstream media are — or “is,” if you insist — liberal. That allegation is preposterous on its face. Fox News is part of the mainstream media, and it’s decidedly not liberal. The same can be said of the Wall Street Journal, one of the most widely-read daily newspapers in America. The same can also be said of talk-radio, which generally leans far right.

Yes, I understand that certain Latin plurals have become singulars through popular usage. The word “data” comes to mind.

But “media” as a singular only feeds the unfortunate misimpression that the media are all alike, especially in terms of political slant. They’re not.

“Media” as a singular makes it easier for conservatives to demonize media in general as a fiendish institution bent on leading America astray. But it’s ridiculous for one medium to castigate all “media” as part of an evil plot.

This problem brings to mind one of my favorite witticisms: I don’t like Latin, per se.


1 Comment

  1. AmazingScott

    Well, the media has become sort of a monolith. Six companies own almost everything from TV, radio, and newspapers to music venues, ticket sales, and billboards. The US media oligopoly runs pretty much everything in this country and is controlled by the government in the form of licenses and sometimes by tax breaks. I wonder if maybe the language is just catching up to reality?

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