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Political Fix by Gloria Penner

The Revolution of the Fourth Estate

Political Fix by Gloria Penner

As a journalist, I've used the phrase, "fourth estate" to describe the press for as long as I can recall. But when thinking about this blog, I realized that I couldn't clearly track its origin. A few minutes on Google, and I found what I wanted:

It was Thomas Carlyle, a British historian of the 19th century, who popularized the term "fourth estate" in reference to the press. Carlyle credited an earlier man of letters, Edmund Burke, with the phrase, saying that Burke had observed that in addition to the "three estates" represented in Parliament -- king, lords and commons -- there was a "fourth estate," the press, more powerful than them all.

Now, more than 150 years after Carlyle memorialized the power of the press, that power is being threatened by economics. Scott Lewis , the new CEO of , knows that the revolution in the news industry is here. Newspapers are disappearing as advertising revenue shrinks and readers do not have a history of  paying for content . According to Slate Magazine's founder, Michael Kinsley, what readers have paid for are paper and distribution.

But Scott Lewis believes that people will decide how much news is worth to them and will figure out a way to support investigative news, analyses, contextual and in-depth reporting. His organization has done away with the expense of newsprint. Certainly San Diego is becoming replete with online news services. There are targeted publications to news with a San Diego focus to more global services .

The theme of that conversation with Scott Lewis tells me what the future of the Fourth Estate could be once the revolution is over and the dust has cleared. It might be modeled on what KPBS has pioneered – a paperless nonprofit enterprise supported by people who voluntarily contribute to its support. Their choice to willingly pay for content is directly motivated by the quality and value that content offers to the individual and the community. What began on the campus of San Diego State more than 40 years ago has survived several troubled economic periods of downturns and recessions. In fact, that experiment in journalism and personal choice has succeeded and prospered, and may very well lead the way for the next iteration of Carlyle’s powerful press.

February 14, 2009 at 05:07 PM
How about accuracy or even better yet how about giving both sides of the story? The name news paper for many is a misnomer. The New Times article you referenced is a perfect example of what is wrong with many of these outlets. They cry the blues of about loosing money and blame everyone else but themselves. The New York Times once was a respected source for news and accuracy. It has become nothing more then a political opinion format selling itself as a news paper to its advertisers. News reporting should not have a biased it you wish to have an agenda then be honest about it and say you are agenda driven but don’t deceive your customer base. Your station is nonprofit and everyone understands your liberal political affiliation. Supporting donations are sent to you by people of like agendas. You have an opinion driving agenda which is fine but if you were taken serious as a news outlet that would be disingenuous.


Tim Kerssen from San Diego
February 17, 2009 at 11:48 PM
Ms. Penner is correct. The press, or the fourth estate, is changing significantly. This is quite obvious to anybody who cares to look. My morning UT, for example, is much thinner than it used to be. The question initially addressed in this thread is whether people will pay for content. KPBS and other public broadcasting outlets have shown that people will, and do, pay for content - perhaps not enough, but they will pay. The direction that news seems to be going though, is toward a smorgasbord style where you pay for snippets you wish to hear or read. If the majority of news comes from this type of source, I fear that most people will choose to listen only to what they want to hear. This could be the death of intelligent dialogue. Dave may well be an exception to those heading in that direction. He clearly listens to right-leaning programs, but also listens to KPBS, which is obvious because of his praise of it for being a liberal station. By the way, my dictionary defines 'liberal' (adj.) as "broad-minded, tolerant" and "not bound by authoritarianism". I certainly am proud to be listening to a liberal news outlet. Unfortunately, Dave also seems to forget that he lives in the real world. I'm not sure what passes for news in his world, but in the real world, all news has some bias. News is reported by human beings who perceive an event, decide what is important about that event, then write about it. No two people will ever see the same event exactly the same way. In deciding what to report, each person brings her own personality and sensibility to the task. One cannot report each and every detail, so reporting necessarily will include some things and leaves out others with the reporter choosing which is which. The handle "newspaper" used to describe the New York Times (how did the NYT get into this conversation?) is no misnomer. It clearly is made of paper. As for whether it is news or opinion, Dave, I challenge you to come up with a better, more comprehensive source of news than the NYT, or KPBS for that matter.

Gloria Penner from KPBS
February 19, 2009 at 06:32 PM
I checked with the KPBS Radio Program Director regarding my impression that KPBS Radio has attracted more members since the expansion of our news staff and our news programming, to help substantiate my contention that people will voluntarily pay for content. KPBS is now the #1 choice of San Diego listeners for news and information during morning drive time. This was his response: " evidenced by our last membership campaign which had a goal of 225; we raised 260. Membership is driven by listenership." To clarify, that goal was $225,000. In less than a week earlier this month, $260,000 was pledged by new and renewing members. We are very thankful that KPBS listeners find value that they are willing to pay for, especially in this dark economy. Gloria

February 27, 2009 at 12:45 AM
Tim KPBS is a left leaning outlet of information. If that isn't the case then why don't they ever promote the other side of the abortion issue or better yet how about exploring the real reason why we have to ration water? Instead they promote oppressive tactics of rationing. If you believe that is honest and balanced then that is your prerogative. I have the same right to disagree. So far we still live in a free country though short lived. As far as your challenge to me try the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal to name two also Fox news the 3rd rated television cable network. They are honest and they tell you when it is opinion. They don’t try to mask opinion with so called news as do the NYT, LAT and other left leaning outlets. That’s my opinion and obviously many others since those papers do not have a readership problem and as far as Fox goes it is growing rapidly while MSNBC,CNN, NBC and CBS are disintegrating.. See the problem with the left is they are boarding and disingenuous. Most people feel that “fool me once shame on you full me twice shame on Me.” and then they quite reading and listening then advertisers refuse to advertise and then the next step they are crying the blues about how unfair everything is.. For left leaning people it is called supply and demand. The real world of supply and demand means you have to be honest with your customer base to maintain your business. The left is accustom to government which needs to please no one. It has a monopoly on everything and is oppressive. Example: the recent 6 billion dollar debt of the post office that just came out. The post office pays 80% of its budget in labor and gives a massive bonus to post office general in the same year of the loss. That is a typical government program. Of course with our new administration that’s going to be standard I’m afraid.