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When 'mediums' becomes the matter

July 6, 2009 |  6:18 am

The article reported on a change in staffing at The Times, a fairly serious matter. But some readers saw an equally worthy topic in the choice of a particular word. Gene Aker of Los Angeles, in fact, saw what he considered a misused word as a dire sign of the changing Times.

The line in question: "Two senior Los Angeles Times editors were given new responsibilities Thursday as part of an effort to create a 24-hour newsroom serving multiple mediums."

"Mediums? Individuals through whom others seek to communicate with the dead? Do you even have a copy desk these days?" Aker wrote, wondering if this apparent goof reflected "the downward spiral of the quality of your newspaper."

(Aker wasn't alone in seeing the specter of psychics in that phrase. On Friday Alan Mutter's Reflections of a Newsosaur blog had a post featured an exchange about the word.)

In fact, Times copy editors put some consideration into using "mediums" (the word, not the psychics). Henry Fuhrmann, who oversees style and grammar in the newsroom, explained in a note to Aker.

Here's the gist of the note that explain the editors' thinking:

The dictionary that The Times uses (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition) lists "mediums" ahead of "media" as the plural of "medium" in general usage.  Fuhrmann says that he and others were aware Saturday when editing the story that "media" is the more widely used term (and that furthermore the dictionary suggests "media" when referring to means of communication). And he acknowledges that using “mediums” varied from The Times' stylebook (which says, "One kind is a medium of communication: newspapers, magazines, radio, television. Its plural is media. Other kinds of medium form a plural by adding "s": happy mediums, psychic mediums."). Still, in this case, says Fuhrmann, he and others were considering the newspaper, The Times' website, Facebook, Twitter and so forth each as a discrete medium; they didn’t want to lump them together as the mass media. That’s why the word choice made sense to editors. 
Ultimately, added Fuhrmann: "Here, as in other recent cases we've discussed, the rules work nearly all of the time for nearly all of us, but our dictionary, our stylebook and common sense should allow for some flexibility now and again." And, he concludes, "Of course, it's possible I'm wrong."

Aker responded too: "Although I still disagree with their decision, and the rationale they used, it was good to learn that at least there was some discussion about which word to use.
"I consulted several dictionaries and stylebooks before sending my comments and came to the opposite conclusion. Although the website, the print edition, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are each their own medium, I would 'lump them together as the mass media.' The choice of 'mediums' still does not make sense to me, in fact, their reasoning puzzles me, but, again, the editors involved deserve credit for at least recognizing that some readers might not agree with their choice."