Why You Should Never Criticize The Media Again

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 12, 2012 – 6:12 am

People regularly tell me that they don’t trust the media.

I usually respond by asking them where they get their news. They’ll name a couple of news websites they visit each day. Or their favorite news radio station. Or the television hosts they cuddle up to each night.

Then comes my inevitable follow-up question: do you trust them?

They usually say yes.

The problem is that blasting “the media” is too imprecise. “Media” is a plural term, not a singular one, which means that almost any criticism of the entire media is overly-broad.

Each of these papers covers the news in a slightly different way.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers some valuable usage notes about both forms of the word. Note the final sentence:

“In most other applications media is used as a plural of medium. The popularity of the word in references to the agencies of mass communication is leading to the formation of a mass noun, construed as a singular <there’s no basis for it. You know, the news media gets on to something — Edwin Meese 3d> <the media is less interested in the party’s policies — James Lewis, Guardian Weekly>. This use is not as well established as the mass-noun use of data and is likely to incur criticism especially in writing.”


So the dictionary acknowledges that people are increasingly using “the media” as a singular term, but that doing so is likely to incur criticism.

I know that all of this may seem much ado about nothing, little more than a nitpicking grammatical point. But I’d argue that this distinction is important for anybody who interacts with “the media.” 

You will be a better media spokesperson if you view news organizations as individual outlets with vastly different needs, pressures, and biases.

For example, a blogger may have looser news standards than The Wall Street Journal. A political radio talk show host may be more casual with the facts than PBS’ The News Hour. National Public Radio may cover a story by interviewing members of a local union, while Fox News may cover that same story by talking to local business owners instead.

So next time you hear someone railing against “the media,” ask them what they mean. You’ll probably find that they mean something more specific than the term “the media” originally suggested.

Postscript: There’s a caveat to everything, and here’s this article’s caveat: “The media” means something to a lot of people. For example, many conservatives view “the mainstream media” with suspicion, and some politicians who rail against “the media” may gain political benefit from doing so. While true, that’s outside the scope of this article’s focus. 

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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