Ask An Editor: What's the difference between 'media' and 'the media?'
In which a professional book editor explains to ESL students the difference between a group of mediums and the journalism industry, despite both being called the same word
I was blessed to receive my COVID vaccination earlier in 2021 than many others, thanks to a selfless act by a friend; so to pay them back karmically, I'm doing volunteer work in English editing in various places all over the internet this year. One place is the subreddit English Learning, in which befuddled ESL students around the world post questions that no one else can seem to answer for them, many involving odd phrases, idioms, and other bizarre corners of English grammar and usage. I find many of them so interesting, I decided to start reposting them here to my blog. Note, however, that many other people usually reply to these questions as well, and that I'm only sharing my own answer since I have no one else's permission to do so. See my main index page for the full list.
On April 17th, 2021, redditor AkshayHokage asked:
What is that word for mentioning all types of story mediums, be it books, movies, series, anime, whatever? If I use the word 'story' people would just assume it to be a book. I suppose I could say 'media,' but if there isn't much context I would think of the news.
You're correct that this can often be confusing; but also realize that in the US, the specific term “the media” is used to refer to the news, while “media” without the “the” is understood to mean “several types of mediums.” For example:
“Vampire stories come in a variety of media.”
“Vampire stories are unfairly criticized by the media.”
Most Americans would understand that the first sentence means “books, movies, TV shows, anime, video games, etc.,” while the second sentence means “people who review vampire stories usually give them bad reviews.” Context means a lot when you use “media” — the words before it and after it largely defining for the listener what you're talking about.
Who was the first person to collectively call newspapers, magazines and TV programs “the media?” Marshall McLuhan. Of course.
[Got a question for Ask An Editor? Send it to me at email@example.com.]