Media: Singular or Plural?

Within the space of a week, Peter Mansbridge, anchor of CBC’s The National, and co-anchor Wendy Mesley have accompanied media with singular verbs when presenting a panel or an upcoming story in future broadcasts. Last night was no exception.

In preparation for a discussion about the way in which the media are covering the ongoing ISIS[1] crisis, Mansbridge asked this opening question:

“Is the media doing its job in covering the story?”

My first reaction to hearing this was “No, Peter! Media is a plural noun and should be followed or preceded by plural verbs!”

Yes, you read correctly. Media is a plural, even though it doesn’t take the traditional form of –s or –es. According to Dictionary.com, media takes its roots from Latin and is the plural of medium.[2] In the late sixteenth century, medium was defined as “a middle ground, quality, or degree.” At the turn of the seventeenth century, the definition was expanded: “intermediate agency, channel of communication.”[3] This was used to describe the plural noun media in the 1920s: “newspapers, radio, TV, etc.”[4]

Although debate exists in some circles about following media by singular verbs to specifically refer to mass media,[5][6] the word remains a plural noun. As writers, I would advise you to edit out singular verbs and precede/follow media by plural verbs.

Mansbridge should have asked:

Are the media doing their job in covering the [ISIS] story?”

To recap: are + media + interrogative predicate OR media + are + rest of predicate. Similarly, bacteria and criteria are plural nouns. Singular forms are bacterium and criterion, respectively.

Much can be said about singular or plural usage of data, but I’ll leave that topic for another post.

[1] Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIL = Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)

[2] “Media.” 2014. Dictionary.com Web. 8 October 2014. Path: Media, Latin. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/media>

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Media.” 2014. Merriam-Webster.com Web. 8 October 2014. Path: Media, Latin. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/media>

[6] “Media, medium.” Published date unknown. English-Word Information: Word Info about English Vocabulary Web. 8 October 2014. Path: Media, Medium, Latin. <http://wordinfo.info/unit/3588/s:a%20neuter%20noun%20meaning>

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