The media has been colloquially called the Fourth Estate as long as I can remember. Back in Acien Regime of France, a political system established under the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties from the 15th-18th centuries, the Fourth Estate was a political force that contrasted from the other three estates (the clergy, nobility, and everyone else) and was instrumental in questioning the power of the First and Second Estates (clergy and nobility, respectively). Today, it is seen to offer a check to at least two dominant and typically insular political forces in modern society, political elites (no matter how non-elitist some claim to be) and moneyed-interests, a.k.a businesses and the rich. I have not heard much wrangling about the definition, nature, and responsibilities of the Fourth Estate, but considering it is a seemingly important institution, I am reminded of Lippmann’s quote above.
The Fourth Estate is the primary institution involved in distributing information by which a community can detect lies. But is seems so much of the media is dominated by corporations and consequently, the bottom line of business, and not the bottom line of journalism; these two bottoms are inherently a conflict of interest. So what if most of the institutions of media are corrupted like so many believe but what should be done about it or even take its place? One method I believe can truly compete in today’s world is the citizen journalist. With the internet, blogging, digital equipment, and a whole host of new technologies citizen journalists have a larger advantage than their counterparts decades ago. What can help them thrive are consumer choices, where more and more people rely on their alternative media like community newspapers and radio, among others, that are not owned by corporations or by the government. I truly believe that this is possible. I have met so many people who write or produce videos as a hobby. I’m sure many people would like to become involved. WordPress is proof. But, like most important things in life, it takes people to get off their ass and just do it.