Demise of the Fourth Estate

Trusted journalism is floundering. Yet, Democracies require independent, fact-based journalism to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of people, and to keep members of society well informed.

With many options for reading news on the Internet plus a plethora of handy devices for accessing it, we now have an abundance of information literally at our fingertips as we sip our morning coffee. The old trusted newspaper is falling by the wayside. It seems there is a trend towards the Fourth Estate (mainstream news) being less believable than the “Fifth Estate“.

Wikipedia defines The Fifth Estate: a socio-cultural reference to groupings of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society, and is most associated with bloggers, journalists publishing in non-mainstream media outlets, and the social media or “social license”. 

But you shouldn’t be quick to blame the Fifth Estate for short-comings of the Fourth. We see a steady increase in polarization of popular beliefs as mainstream news channels seem to take on partisan-inflected shifts from being unbiased. In the United States most main-stream media are operated for profit. Since many media businesses are owned by people with strong political views, the owners can use them as tools to further their respective agendas. 

Unfortunately, some well-established legacy channels such as CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYT, etc., and we see them becoming authors of their own demise – they are not without bias. Their journalism is often less objective and more like “Infotainment“. They care about ratings and will often report on and publish stories that are questionable… in other words, propaganda. Without multiple points of view, there is one-sidedness to their stories.  They have become a mono-culture and this is not healthy for a democracy.

For the naïve consumer who believes this reporting (as the media people do), this is not seen as a problem; the consumer and the purveyor share the same set of beliefs. They are all on the same page. A further issue is that this can leave a percentage of the public feeling unheard and disregarded, and that is where misunderstanding and big rifts build up.

With this Fifth Estate, a lot of ordinary people are now taking on the role of publishing – rolling their own personal views as “Journalists” [just as I do?]… ordinary in the sense that they are untrained in the diligence required to thoroughly research facts and seek the truth. They rely more on hearsay.

We see the systematic synthesis of an alternative “reality” – based on what some people would like to believe is true. If you want something bad enough, say you already have it. If you say it strongly, over and over again with enough conviction, and others like what they hear, they will soon buy into it without question like the flavour of the day.

When enough people believe an alternative reality we have Herd mentality (also known as mob mentality), a behavior in which a group of people act the same way or adopt similar behaviors like the people around them — often sidelining their own thoughts in the process.

Some studies have determined that it takes just 5% of people walking confidently to influence 95% of the other walkers to follow them. Some people who are in despair, long for a better life. If they see someone else who seems to have that better life, they will gravitate to follow that person and their doctrine.

There are people who talk about the power of positive thinking. Others are into occult practices and believe in the supernatural. Think of an individual sheep blindly following the flock no matter where they go just because that’s where the herd is heading… or the mythical lemming migration where they all follow the herd into the sea.

The bottom line is, caveat emptor – or in this case, reader/listener beware. What you read or hear is not necessarily to be believed. They say there are two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle is the truth.


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