< You Are What You Is

Transcript

Friday, November 28, 2008

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
When we relaunched On the Media almost nine years ago, we had a big decision to make: Is the word “media” singular or plural? Do we say, for example, “The media is out to get us” or “The media are out to get us?” We chose “are.” Grammatically it’s a no-brainer. Media, like data, are plural. The singular of “data” is “datum.” The singular of “media” is “medium,” which could refer to a specific communications platform, like print or TV, or paper mache, or a person who communicates with the dead.

But when we say “media are” we're also taking a position that the media are composed of many voices and is not a monolith that, critics charge, speaks for the power elite.

Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at Buzzmachine.com, generally shares our view but has reached the opposite conclusion. He’s on the line. Welcome back.
JEFF JARVIS:
Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
So you’re in the “is” camp. I guess I should have known, you being all contrarian and anti-Latinate endings and all like that.

JEFF JARVIS:
I think media have gone from plural to singular. When I started in journalism, you had to pick one medium for life. Now, still photographers can now do video on their still cameras. Print reporters are doing video as part of their stories. TV reporters are doing video and text and graphics and everything else. So it all becomes one. And if there’s no distinctions among all these formerly separate media, then I think “media” must become singular.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Oh, I see. So you’re looking at the media in terms of the platforms all merging, ultimately everything coming out of a single box, which is something that I believe, too. But what about media as a cultural institution? Once the media is referred to as an “is,” then people think they can ascribe a single personality to it.
JEFF JARVIS:
Well, that was truer when it was an oligopoly. Now the media have exploded, so that we all can participate in it; we all can create. We are making videos by the bazillions. We are making audio. We're writing. We're doing all this stuff.

You know, here’s the problem, Brooke. We in media are so egotistical - we look at this Internet coming along and see it in our own image. Oh, that’s media, and everyone there who’s doing stuff wants to be like us.
They're often not. They're often just conversing, and that conversation itself becomes media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
No, I get that. I totally get that, despite my egotism. But the fact of the matter is, is a lot of people who advocate for “media is” are coming to that decision from the exact opposite direction. They're the ones who say that it is a tacit acknowledgement that media is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and, therefore, does, in fact, speak with a single voice.
JEFF JARVIS:
I think the concentration problem is over, thanks to the Internet. In fact, the only concentration that’s going on is dinosaurs huddling together against the cold wind of the future. So you have companies, like Tribune Company that brought all this media in together into one big conglomerate, and look at the trouble they're in.

I don't think we have this problem of the monolithic media. That day is over. We are all part of the media now. We all own it now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And so, like the American people, we refer to it in the singular.
JEFF JARVIS:
“Media is.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
[LAUGHS] Jeff, thank you so much.
JEFF JARVIS:
Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
So what do you say, Bob? Should we stick with “media are” or move into the brave new world of “media is?”
BOB GARFIELD:
Well, Jeff makes an interesting point – “are”!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
[LAUGHS] Yeah, me too.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD:
That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips, Nazanin Rafsanjani and Michael Bernstein, and edited – by Brooke. We had technical direction from Jennifer Munson and more engineering help from Zach Marsh. We also had help from Deena Prichep and Andy Lanset. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD:
And I'm Bob Garfield.