Thursday, March 24, 2005

Little Change, Big Difference

In editing a story on the shootings this week on the Indian reservation in Minnesota, I changed a reference to "a horde of media" descending upon the reservation to "a media horde."

What's the difference? Well, one makes sense and one doesn't. If you insist that media is and always will be a plural noun, you're stuck with the meaning of "more than one medium." Even if a medium in this sense (the concept of television? the concept of radio?) could swarm an Indian reservation, there aren't enough of them to constitute a horde. Media in this case is short for news media, so you have probably four: print, radio, television and the online world. Subdivide those all you want -- you won't end up with more than a dozen or so. Hardly a horde.

If, like me, you recognize that media when used that way is a mass noun, you see that horde of media makes even less sense. You wouldn't say horde of military or horde of judiciary, but military horde and judiciary horde -- and media horde -- are fine. It's a horde of people from the media, which works whether media is singular or plural.


Dr Zen said...

But when one says "the media", doesn't one often mean the people who work in the media rather than the media themselves? When one says "the media are here", one doesn't mean an actual newspaper, a television and a radio are present. One means the journalists that create the reports that are broadcast in those media have arrived. A "media party" is one for the people that work in the media... and so on.

Anyway, to insist that "media" is a plural noun, and always will be, is contemptible pedantry. Like any other word, it's whatever we use it as, and not what it was used as a couple of thousand years ago.

Phillip Blanchard said...

I would suggest that any mention of a "media horde" was unnecessary in that story. Or, it it was "necessary," it should have simply said "reporters and photographers." "Media horde"? I don't think so.

Ellie said...

"Like any other word, it's whatever we use it as". Isn't that the Humpty Dumpty argument? ("When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.")

In any case, in "media party", "the media are here" etc, media is being used as a mass noun... isn't it? "Media party" is no different to "media horde". You wouldn't refer to "a gathering of media", but "a media gathering". So aren't we in agreement here?

[/contemptible pedantry]

Bill said...

-- If one says "the media" meaning "the members of the media" while claiming that "media" is plural, one is calling Peter Jennings a medium. Clearly, Peter Jennings is not a medium. Hence the problem I'm addressing here.

-- My problem with "reporters and photographers" is that it excludes, say, TV camera operators and technicians.

Phillip Blanchard said...

TV cameramen are photographers, but if you want to draw a distinction, you could write "reporters, photographers and television crews." Better than "media horde." Or you could leave out the whole thing, because it's not relevant to the story.

Bill said...

Well, I guess never, ever using the word is one way to get around that pesky singular-vs.-plural question!

WhichThat said...

There is, without question, such a thing as a media horde. A media horde descends (the verb is always "descends") wherever circumstances spawn a sudden mass market for cheap sentiment, tawdry spectacle and obtuse pontification. This differs from mere news in that the coverage tends to be cheap, tawdry and obtuse.

Bill said...

Not to be confused with a "media whore," of course.

Le Petomane said...

Horde? An impressive term for what was doubtless more of a gaggle or a swarm.

The Media Horde came down
Like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming
In purple and gold.