Medium, Mass Media, Social Media

Medium, Mass Media, Social Media

  1. refer to the materials and tools rhetors use to compose, archive, and convey messages.
  2. have unique constraints and affordances.
  3. are a vital element of the rhetor’s rhetorical situation.

Medium is the singular form of Media, a collective noun. Media or Mass Media refers to television, newspapers, magazines, and radio. Thus, CNN is a medium, but CNN and Fox are Media.

Social Media refers to online tools and communication ecosystems that facilitate social sharing and dialog (e.g., Instagram, Wikipedia, Twitter, & You Tube, Facebook.]


Media is a broad term that includes the materials and tools that empower rhetors to compose, archive, and convey messages, including

  • symbol systems
    • e.g., alphabetical text, mathematical symbols, musical symbols, computer code
  • a pen, pencil, or stylus
  • a printed page, a computer screen, a canvas for painting
  • hard drives, computer servers
  • ink, charcoal, crayon, pixels
  • newspaper, TV, Radio.

Media have unique affordances. For example,

  • Facebook, Twitter or Snapshot can make it easy for people to engage in conversations. These tools encourage spontaneous thinking and decision making.
  • Tools like Skype or Google Hangout make it easy to problem solve on a collaborative project.
  • TV and movies strongly appeals to pathos.

Media have unique constraints. For instance,

  • A tweet limits a rhetor to a limited number of characters.
  • A blog post encourages concise texts with hyperlinks to other bloggers, embedded videos, animations, photos, and hyperlinks.

Historically, medium was assumed to be a speech or text. As a result, when exploring the effects of the rhetorical situation on composing the focus was on ways rhetors use rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, logos) to persuade audiences. Until the advent of the internet and today’s disruptive communication technologies, medium has been undertheorized.

Nowadays, however, rhetors have a plethora of materials and tools for composing, archiving, and conveying messages. And, as Marshall McLuhan famously remarked–the medium is the message–the medium a rhetor chooses can have a profound effect on a message and its interpretation.

In summary, to be literate in the 21st century, writers and speakers need to be competent writing or speaking or performing in multiple medium. Often, the exigency, the issues at hand, will warrant a particular medium. For example, the job applicant may feel an infographic best captures his personal narrative, but if Google wants machine-readable texts for the initial job screening then the applicant needs to use the Google form online to apply for the job.

But there are other times when a rhetor will want to take one message and filter it through different media, from newspaper articles, to blog posts, youtube videos, tweets, press releases–and so on.