What Exactly is ‘The Media’?
The media apparently blamed for everything in the world — especially when things go wrong. When COVID19 started to arrive on America’s shores, many people freaked out and bought loads of toilet paper. Skeptics scoffed at their panic, and said the go-to line on who to blame.
“It’s all the media’s fault.”
“Blame the media.”
Again and again, the media is seen as public enemy #1 and the source of all things wrong in our world.
But the problem here is, what media are critics really talking about?
After all, there’s so many divisions in the media world, and if you ever took an Intro to Communications or a Media and Society course while a college student, you probably learned that the term “media” is very broad and not limited to just the news media (and even that’s a broad term as well).
For one thing, the word “media” is the plural version of “medium” — and that comes from the Latin word for “middle”, or “neuter of medius”. In other words, something that is in the middle; between something.
Now, “medium” is one of those words that has so many definitions to it. But according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions is “a means of effecting or conveying something: such as…”
After that comes five sets of that meaning, one refers to substances and the other four are — you guessed it — forms of communication.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the term “medium” has many examples. Basically, “medium” is a way of communicating, and the medium is what is between the communicator and its audience. Hence, why the medium (what is used to communicate to the audience) is in the middle of the communicator and the audience.
Now, since “media” is the plural version, it obviously refers to all the various ways to communicate: print, video, radio, podcasts, and so forth. It also refers to the ways artists use to communicate their point: paintings, sculptures, sketches, etc. Yes, this means people like Shakespeare, Van Gogh and Johannes Gutenberg were members of the media, so to speak.
Now, how does the media blame game come into this?
Well, the term “mass media” first came into use during the 1920s. This was the use of radio became widespread, alongside newspapers and magazines. Later on, television and the Internet would join this group of a much used, yet much detested form of communication.
And because as the decades went on, and journalism found its way into the radio airwaves and television channels, it appears that “the media” began to refer to news media — even though the term “media” does not exclusively refer to news reporters and news writers. Heck, the media can also refer to the ads you see on buses or overwhelming Times Square at every inch. The media can also refer to those annoying pop-up ads or those video ads we see online. The media can be what you see at the Guggenheim or the Louvre, or your local art gallery, or even the murals you see on buildings. Better yet, what you post on Twitter or Instagram or TikTok is a medium — since it is a form of communication used by you to talk to your audience. Your words, photo, or video is the medium between you and the millions of strangers out there. Yes, you too, are part of the media.
But does that necessarily mean you are the media? Are you in-between the communicator or the audience? No, you are on either side. It is the tool that is used to communicate that is the medium.
So when anyone blames the media for anything that goes wrong in the world, they obviously mean the people on the other side of the tool being used — even though the word being used to blame isn’t who they are targeting. Come to think of it, anyone who says the old adage, “it’s the media’s fault!”, they’re kind of blaming a piece of paper (newspapers or magazines), audio waves (radio and podcasts), and images (photographs and videos).
So, while it is understandable to see why the definition of “media” has gotten lost over the last century, it is also good to understand what the word actually means. Because if someone is going to criticize and blame someone, they need to know who exactly they are blaming.
Originally published at https://ourequilibrium.substack.com.