What is media? Definition and meaning

The term media, which is the plural of medium, refers to the communication channels through which we disseminate news, music, movies, education, promotional messages and other data. It includes physical and online newspapers and magazines, television, radio, billboards, telephone, the Internet, fax and billboards.

It describes the various ways through which we communicate in society. Because it refers to all means of communication, everything ranging from a telephone call to the evening news on television can be called media.

When talking about reaching a very large number of people we say mass media. Local media refers to, for example, your local newspaper, or local/regional TV/radio channels.

MediaWe used to get all our news and entertainment via TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. Today the Internet is gradually taking over. Print newspapers are struggling as hundreds of millions of people each year switch to news sources online.

Different types of media

Media can be broken down into two main categories: broadcast and print. The Internet has also emerged as a major player, as a rapidly-growing number of people globally get their news, movies, etc. online.

Print Media includes all types of publications, including newspapers, journals, magazines, books and reports. It is the oldest type, and despite suffering since the emergence of the Internet, is still used by a major proportion of the population.



Broadcast Media refers to radio and TV, which came onto the scene at the beginning and middle of the 20th century respectively. Most people still get their news from TV and radio broadcasts – however, experts predict that it will not be long before online sources take over.

Over the past twenty years, cable news has grown in importance.

Stephen Hawking quoteStephen Hawking, a British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, once said: “The media need superheroes in science just as in every sphere of life, but there is really a continuous range of abilities with no clear dividing line.” (Image: hawking.org.uk)

The Internet – specifically websites and blogs – are rapidly emerging as viable and major channels of communication as more and more people seek news, entertainment and educational material online.

Virtually every part of the Internet has become a medium of communication – most free email services have little boxes that display ads and other messages.



The Internet as we know it today did not really take off until the 1990s. In 1995, just 1% of the world’s population was online, compared to over 49% today. The notion of the Internet started in the 1960s in the USA during the Cold War, when the military and scientists were worried about a missile attack, which could knock out the telephone system.

What is social media?

Social media is a collective of online communication channels where communities interact, share content and collaborate.

Websites and apps dedicated to social networking, microblogging, forums, social bookmarking, wikis and social curation are examples of some types of social media.

The most famous social networking companies are Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram.

Internet GrowthJust twenty-one years ago, very few people across the world knew what the Internet was. Today it has become a part of our lives. It is destined to become the number 1 channel for communicating with the world’s population. (Data Source: internetworldstats.com)

Media ‘is’ or ‘are’?

If media is the plural of medium, then one would think that it should be used grammatically in the plural – the verb that follows it should be in the plural form, shouldn’t it?

However, in most literature it is used as a singular noun, and is interpreted as a collective singular, similar to other collective nouns such as ‘team’ or ‘group’. Therefore, to write the ‘media is’ is perfectly acceptable today. Some people may insist it is wrong, but it is still acceptable – languages are constantly evolving.

According to Collins Dictionary, media is:

“The means of communication that reach large numbers of people, such as television, newspapers, and radio.”

It all started thousands of years ago

Human communication through designed channels – not through speech or gestures – dates back to many tens of thousands of years ago when our ancient ancestors painted on the walls of caves.

The cave paintings at Lascaux in southwestern France, estimated to be over 17,000 years old, are no less viable expressions of media than our current TV shows and magazines.

The Persian Empire – c. 550–330 BC – played a major role in the history of human communication through designed channels. Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great (c. 550 BC) developed the first ever real postal system. It was an effective intelligence-gathering apparatus, called Angariae, a term that later indicated a tax system.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), a Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher claimed in the 1830s that the printing press created the modern world by destroying feudalism. Many historians say that the advent of the printing press was the birth of what we know today as media.

The term media in its current application relating to channels of communications was first used by Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), a Canadian professor, philosopher, and public intellectual who said: “The media are not toys; they should not be in the hands of Mother Goose and Peter Pan executives. They can be entrusted only to new artists, because they are art forms.”

By the mid-1960s, the term spread to general use in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Video – What is Media?

This myEdu Learn video explains what media is in easy-to-understand terms and examples.