You Are What You Is

Friday, November 28, 2008


Media are many. Indeed the word media is plural. That's why we say “are” and not “is” on the show (okay, we try anyway). But Brooke might be won over by the ranks, including Jeff Jarvis, who think ‘media is’ is acceptable. Will OTM make the change?

Comments [20]

carol from CA

Although Jeff may have said "Media have," Brooke said "Once the media is referred to ..."
Where's that "are" Bob and Brooke say they're sticking with?

Dec. 05 2008 06:59 PM
Juan Martinez

The media is like a plague now a days, were completely sorrounded by it, were constantly makng new videos, creating new sites, posting blogs, is a source of advertizements, that why the plural on its significance relates to all of humanities and those who use it. I are is in company with this term media.

Dec. 04 2008 11:01 AM

I think that media has been able to go from plural to singular and I would have to say "is". Media is becoming so huge and so broad that it is constantly changing and evolving from one thing to another. Our media today is able to relate to relate to everybody. Anyone is able to contribute to it!

Dec. 04 2008 12:43 AM
Laura A from Austin, TX

Since you mentioned it, how about a piece on the proper use of the words data and datum? At the least, an effort should me made to use correct grammar with regard to these words.

The term "data" is almost invariably used (incorrectly) in the singular. Interviewers and guests alike, even those who collect data, tell us what their "data shows." A datum might show, but wouldn't be very convincing given it is a sample size of one. Meanwhile, I'll look forward to hearing from you about what the data show.

Dec. 01 2008 01:22 PM
Martin from Seattle

I'm glad you're sticking to your guns on the plural, Brooke and Bob.

Every time someone talks about the media in the singular, it reinforces the lazy assumption that all reporters are alike... which makes it that much harder for me to convince reluctant sources to talk.

Also, I don't think Jeff was actually listening to you, Brooke. His insistence that the media are increasingly diverse and decentralized is an argument FOR the plural, not against it. But I guess once you've picked sides in a debate, you stop listening.

(Hm... Everybody talking and nobody listening. Isn't that sort of the definition of the new media? And comment pages like this?)

Dec. 01 2008 03:10 AM
Ward Beattie from Seattle

There is an interesting theory in Indo-European linguistics that suggests why -a is used in Latin, for example, as the nominative ending for both feminine singular (e.g. "familia", "scientia") and neuter plural nouns, like "media". The basic notion is that neuter plurals ("things we know") may have changed into collective singulars ("science"). There is a brief description here:
If this is what is happening to "media", we should not be too surprised. We should certainly avoid the pedantry of insisting that it should always (or even ever) be used with plural verb forms.

Nov. 30 2008 10:43 PM
Steve Haflich from Berkeley, CA

I was also quite bothered by Brooke's line "Media _are_ plural" and I note that Jeff did the same, a line something like (transcripts not posted yet): "I think media _have_ gone from singular to plural." Compare the obviously ungrammatic: "Horses" are the plural of "horse." It's just as bad without the quotes (which are not easily conveyed in broadcast, and arguably not required even in print): Horses are the plural of horse.


Nov. 30 2008 06:28 PM
a.r.m. from western mass

In repsonse to Pat, I don't think using "media" to refer to a mass indicates anything about how we see media consolidation.

The parts of a mass noun do not have all the parts to be identical; they simply also count as having the property ascribed. A set of "furniture" may well consist of tables, chairs, and beds. A chair is not a bed, but they are both furniture. A pile of "sand" may well comprise white sands and volcanic sands. These are not made of the same kind of rock, but they are both sand.

Likewise, the "media" consists of everything from cable bloviators to independent investigative journalists. No one would say that Bill O'Reilly and Seymour Hersh speak with the same voice, but they're both in the media.

Nov. 30 2008 01:01 PM
chuck thompson from Anchorage, AK

This exercise in semantics would make my British relatives laugh. They use singular nouns with plural verbs -- and vice-versa -- with such distressing ease that this discussion almost smacks of straining at gnats while they are busily swallowing camels.

Nov. 30 2008 11:42 AM
Robert from NYC

I can go with the media is, but I'll never use "loan" as a verb! NEVER I TELL YOU!!!

Nov. 30 2008 10:55 AM

When I hear you use “media” as a plural, it reminds me that you are talking about lots of different voices. To me this is an important distinction and one that I think you should continue. Generalizations should reflect this multiplicity, e.g. the media “tend to” rather than “do.”

If you want to use a collective term that refers to a group with a single point of view, use a different word. Unless you have given up on diversity in the media and, as another comment suggested, consider the media a “mass,” like furniture!

Nov. 30 2008 07:49 AM
chuck thompson from Anchorage, AK

How often do you hear the word "media" without a adjective preceding it? Nowadays, almost never.

Qualifiers, like "main stream" or "corporate" placed in front of the term suggest to me the term "media" suddenly is no longer a plural voice but a singular one.

The phrase and concept of a "corporate media," the preferred term used by such liberal dignitaries as Thom Hartmann, is so commonplace that to use it as a plural seems almost laughable. Maybe it once was a plural, but those days, thanks to the likes of Kevin Martin, are so far gone -- and so quickly! -- that the mechanics of language have been slow to catch up.

Nov. 30 2008 02:38 AM
Deborah Seligsohn from Beijing

Jeff Jarvis himself concedes to the plural camp. During the interview he says "the media have exploded..." If the media "have" rather than "has," then the media "are" rather than "is." He may have a logical argument for what he says, but clearly he is more comfortable with the plural.

Nov. 30 2008 01:44 AM
vince c. from hartford

I disagree with the idea that saying "the media is" is a reflection of increased media consolidation. We always said "the press is...", even back in the 'good ol' days' when most cities had competing newspapers. If you can say "The press has full access to the candidate," why not say "The media has full access?"

Nov. 29 2008 08:07 PM
Brad Burkman from Natchitoches, LA

My comment refers to one of the first lines of your (otherwise) marvelous piece.

" 'Media,' like 'data,' are plural."

Here, when you use the word "media," you refer not to the media, but to the word, "media." The word IS plural. The word, like anything else plural, IS plural. Two plurals ARE plural, but one plural, like another, IS plural.

I was driving across the Gulf Coast and growled at the radio twice, which behavior my girlfriend described as "freaky." While I may be a math teacher, I am a math teacher who, like his librarian girlfriend, KNOWS (modifying a singular noun) how to make the verb agree with its antecedent.

Nov. 29 2008 07:55 PM
Tom Hester from Silver City NM

The very premise of On the Media rests on an understanding that the media surround us, in fotos, music, literature, radio, television, Internet, theater, cinema, toys, folk life, dance, magazines, newspapers, cable, academe, and dozens of others means by which we communicate, as plural phenomena (not phenomenon).

Nov. 29 2008 06:07 PM
Preston Woodruff from Brevard NC

Brooke, I wouldn't bring this up if you hadn't referred to "Latinate endings," but if memory serves, neuter plural nouns in Latin (datum/data, medium/media) take singular verbs. Why not stick with that?

Nov. 29 2008 05:05 PM
a.r.m. from western mass

I think that Brooke is missing the point by focusing on singular vs. plural. The distinction she is grasping at is mass vs. count.

The distinction between mass and count nouns is based on the nature of objects--- For instance, any part of a pile of sand is still sand, but the parts of a dog are not a dog.

Mass nouns do not always refer to substances. "Furniture" is a mass noun because whenever you have furniture, any part of that furniture is still furniture. The same goes for "Information" and other abstract masses.

Most people use "media" as a mass noun, meaning that any part of the media is still media. Its usage is like that of the word "press," referring to the somewhat abstract body of journalists. It has nothing to do with conglomeration or anything like that.

Mass nouns are grammatically singular, but semantically they are neither singular nor plural. Grammatical number is not equivalent to inherent number, as evidenced by the grammatically correct though stylistically unacceptable "singular 'they'."

Those who say "the media are" view the media as a kind of count noun. However, they are confusing the count word "medium" and its plural "media", which refers to modes of communication, with the mass noun "media" which refers to the press.

Nov. 29 2008 02:12 PM
steve o from dc

definitely "are". i agree with you, Brooke, and furthermore, especially in the context of a report concerning grammar, i appreciate your use of the word "compose". seemingly simple enough, yet daily i hear (even on npr!) the word "comprise" incorrectly used in place of "compose" ("the media are composed of many voices"). this drives me nuts- i even hear it used in commercials, where presumably each and every word is perused for its conciseness and cogency. and i don't wanna hear about the wonderful ability of the english language to evolve, reflecting modern common usage. ignorance is ignorance. love, steve o (truck driver extraordinaire)

Nov. 29 2008 12:10 PM
Doug Wood from Michigan

I "are" in the plural camp and hope we are able to keep it that way. The multi-media conglomerates seek to bring all the forms of expression together is not something I believe should happen. Thank you to show like yours that continue to examine the parts that make up the whole.

Nov. 29 2008 08:49 AM

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