Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Redemption of the fourth estate, or just another venture in capitalism?

While Ted Koppel's op-ed article in Sunday's Washington Post wasn't on the list, I found it rounded out this week's reading quite nicely. In his article, Koppel remembers a time when television news was objective and honest, when journalists reported the true state of affairs, and when the fourth estate, as intended, kept an unbiased, watchful eye over government activities. Of course that was also before networks figured out news could generate revenue. I guess they decided churning a profit was more important than churning the truth. I'm not going to lump all of today's journalists into one group as Koppel did, but his opinions are well-founded for a good number of them.

The issue at hand, however, is not what happened 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. The issue at hand is how we, as a participatory culture, combat what journalism has become. The current state of dominant news media consists of charismatic personalities with open wallets. While the righties head for the bank, the lefties head for MSNBC. I love Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, but I also know which side they're pulling for, and I shouldn't.

Ted Koppel also states in his article, "The transition of news from a public service to a profitable commodity is irreversible." If that is true, we are seriously doomed, and on many, many levels. However, Boler gives me hope. The fact that we are aware gives me hope, and the fact that she and others have put theories into place gives me hope. The question now is how to put these theories into action. Collectively how can we establish a near equivalent to the objective honesty that once existed? How can we as a participatory culture realize and report the truth?

Boler suggests it must come from a grassroots movement where, "All are interested in challenging and intervening in dominant media structures, and in cutting across modes of distribution with aims of resisting the messages and form of dominant media".

So my question again, how do we do this? Boler provides a list of possibilities, but how do we enlist the trust of the masses? More importantly, how do we enlist the trust of each other? It takes support and it takes money. We have already established that honest news doesn't generate revenue. How long before we see ourselves in the mirror of our opposition?

Perhaps my once youthful optimism has been tainted by the practices of everyday life. My hopes of "changing the world" have been reduced to hopes of making changes in my own life. But even as I succumb to the realities of my culture, I have not given in to its ignorance.

On some level I do still have hope that the American people will wake up to the fact that the only objective of dominant news media is partisan perception, in some cases outright dishonesty. The youth of our nation are already clued in to this fact. Thankfully they are the future of this great country. At the same time, it saddens me that parody and satire are the preferred media portals for these same individuals. In retrospect, I guess the whole situation is funny in a sad sort of way.

If the internet is the answer to redeeming the fourth estate, I say hoorah for the good guys. But as Boler suggests, the term itself may be apt for a new definition. Perhaps one that includes the watchful eye of the people. If the government knows we as a people are watching them and reporting the real facts, perhaps then we can get back to the fabric that makes America a great nation.


  1. I am not sure if you feel the internet is a way to redeeming the fourth estate. When I was reading Boler, I was wondering if a certain side dominates the web. I notice that when it comes to political news that most of the posts I read are similar to my point of view.

    Do you see a certain side controlling the web or that you become comfortable with websites that share similar viewpoints to your own?

  2. The purpose of the fourth estate is to become a role of balance among the executive, justice, and legislature. No matter what, the fourth estate is so important as it is acting as a transparency in the society.


  3. My question will always be how do we know what on the internet is credible and reliable?

    The internet holds so many truths that most of them are fiction.

    So according to Sam's definition who would be a good candidate for the fourth estate?

  4. Questioning the roll of internet in a participatory government is the most important act we can do as individuals. The hope is that the newer generation has learned to be critical thinkers with information and will apply that to their role as citizens.

    The hope is also that they take citizenship seriously and not turn to apathy. Does satire lead to apathy? Jon Stuart would say no, satire can lead to action, but in my own life I have difficulty mustering the enthusiasm for a system I see corrupted by punditry and lobbying. I believe everything is cyclical, so I don't hold the banner of doom and gloom, but I am interested to see what Generation M will do to change the political and news landscape.

  5. I think the downfall of news media is definitely a complex tale. I like Adam Curtis's take on it, where he says the news essentially just shows disturbing clips of children with guns and the reporter sits there and says 'oh dear' without really explaining whats going on.

    (He explains here: )

    The news being about ratings is horrible as well because it makes them look for a story arch that can fit into a news show. They follow stories until they have run there course, and then look for something else to be upset about.

    It looks like Wiki-leaks is filling the void of investigative journalism that seems to have died off. The New York Times and other newspapers always report on the items that are leaked, and Wiki-Leaks give them to major journalists before they are released to the public.

    Journalists are supposed to dig and reveal, to detract from politicians. Everyone seems to be on a side now. Wiki-leaks at least offers some degree keeping-the-government-in-check.

    Also, this is a pretty funny look at American journalists

  6. "The issue at hand is how we, as a participatory culture, combat what journalism has become." Well stated.

  7. I actually think, because of the way journalism has become, knowing which side a particular pundit is "rooting" for helps me make a better informed decision. It's when they put on an air of unbiased-ness that puts me off on them altogether. At least if they are upfront about their personal choice in politics and what they cover, it helps me decide for myself about what they've said.

  8. @Meagan I work with the "new generation" everyday and I feel like there is no hope. They are just as willing to blindly accept anything they are given. Apathy is the default setting of an overwhelming majority of these kids. How do we change that? Not sure but it seems impossible to me.