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The Fourth Estate


By Jessie

Extra! Extra! Read all about... the fiery cataclysmic end of days for our crumbling print media empires, last bastions of truth and upholders of justice. Featuring vested interests, political persuasion and a (Shock – Exclusive!) cameo from the Richest Woman in the World!

One of the BIG stories in the Australian media this week is the massive job cuts and corporate restructuring of two major news associations, Fairfax and News Ltd. I’m genuinely sad for the thousands facing redundancy and I must say I hold grave fears for the safety of editorial independence, but at the same time I’m a teensy bit thrilled to have front row seats at such an extraordinary moment in time. For what we are witnessing is a tipping point in human communications, a shift in the cultural paradigm that will inevitably influence our future. Fairfax's metropolitan editorial director, Garry Linnell, has said the changes represent the “most significant transformation in the company's history".

It got me thinking about how “the news” all began. We can thank the Chinese for inventing the early technology, with the world’s first known movable-type system created by Bi Sheng around 1040 A.D. The next major accomplishment occurred around 1450 when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, thought to be a key factor in heralding the beginning of the Renaissance and subsequent Age of Enlightenment. The printing press democratized learning and knowledge, ideas were shared around the globe and humanism, science and the arts all flourished. 

In a 1787 parliamentary debate Edmund Burke coined the term “The Fourth Estate” referring to print journalism, or “the press”. This term implicitly acknowledges the social and political power that journalists had begun to wield, previously the sole domain of the traditional three estates of Parliament: The Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Commons (in other words, the Church, the Nobility and the people). 

Extra! Extra!

In the early days of newspapers, if a big story broke after the daily edition had gone to print, an additional 'Extra' was published and sold on the street by Cockney urchins in long shorts and flat caps who would call "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" (no doubt before taking your shilling and picking your pocket).

Up until fairly recent times the print media was the major way we received information about the world. An important job! And yet searching for quotes about journalism, I was quite surprised to find almost nothing positive. It seems no news really IS good news.

The French poet Charles Baudelaire declared “I am unable to understand how a man of honor could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust”.  And Oscar Wilde thought that “there is much to be said in favour of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

Even Gandhi is supposed to have said “I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.” Gandhi!

But in this modern day of editorial budget slashing I fear it is the gentle art of headline writing that will suffer most.

FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER screamed The UK Sun in 1986, claiming that the comedian had eaten a fan's pet hamster in a sandwich. The story was later proven false, but is seen as one of the classic tabloid newspaper headlines. The Sun was also responsible for SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS (about a football result) while HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR has become one of America’s most famous headlines courtesy of a 1983 edition of the New York Post.

So what next for journalism? If we could disembowel a hapless paparazzo and divine the future from his glistening entrails what would we find? A brave new world of interactive media supported by the highest standards of transparency, democracy and accountability? Or an Orwellian dystopia controlled by the outrageously wealthy and their PR henchmen, regurgitating spin on a continuous loop and silencing independent ideas and opinions?

Do you still buy the newspaper? What’s your favourite headline of all time? 

Jessie x

23 Responses to

The Fourth Estate

sozza23 said:
June 28, 2012 at 3:44 PM

17 REMAIN DEAD IN MORGUE SHOOTING SPREE, was a headline in the Washington Observer a couple of years ago.

June 29, 2012 at 3:28 AM

As someone who has worked in newspapers for all my working life, starting as a "Kelly at the Tele" and progressing to Classified Advertising Manager for the Daily Telegraph Mirror to the Daily Telegraph then Advertising Manager for the Cairns Post and onto Suburban Advertising Manager for Cumberland Newspapers - the suburban arm of News Ltd with a pool of 24 suburban papers and finally Features Advertising Manager for Newsnet - the main arm for National advertising for all News Ltd metro papers I am deeply saddened that it looks like an age old tradition is coming to an end. I've worked closely with editorial staff and journos throughout my career and whilst some were after the sensationalism that some mistakenly attribute to tabloids, most were honest, creative, hard working people who just wanted to report the truth to a world that craves news. This is all some of these people know and it will be hard for some to move on, what next for someone who has been a print journo for their entire working lives. I also worry about the computer illiterate in our society, the elderly and those who just love their morning or local newspaper and those who love that Sunday lie in with their beloved Sunday rag. It's a part of life that we have to accept but it is a sad reflection on a society that seems to be forever seeking an easier way to do things. I still have first print editions of the day the Daily Telegraph Mirror became the Daily Telegraph, one that says "It's War" referring to the Iraqi conflict and many others that denote important dates in our history. There will never be hard copies of such events again so will they simply be forgotten. Meantime, I'll continue to avidly read my local newspaper and learn about what's going on in the world in which I live. Vale The Fourth Estate Deb

pdiaco said:
June 29, 2012 at 8:55 AM

The Australian 'Fourth Estate', viz the Press, in my view and recent experiences no longer serves as a control on serious political corruption and draconian dictatorial legislation. This being the case, what is now required is a 'Fifth Estate'. When is the last time anyone saw any real political news that impacts on the welfare of millions of Australians? As far as I and many others have observed, the censorship by the media conglomorates is the worst it's ever been.

June 29, 2012 at 12:38 PM

My late husband, during his illness, became an avid participant in the online news versions of the newspapers and regularly commented on items. He was thoroughly disgusted, however, that some articles were closed to such comment or swept quickly off main focus by publishing on a Friday, quietly swept away by Monday. Editorial independence or blatant political influence on behalf of controlling business interests? Personally I don't like online newspapers and rarely buy real ones. I skim friend's copies occasionally and help do the daily crosswords. I really enjoy the freebie local papers so hope they are not on the chopping block.

dj1 said:
June 29, 2012 at 1:44 PM

The most incomprehensible headline I have ever seen was in the Illawarra Mercury some years back. It read: "PLAINS WASTE DUMP ROW!" It turned out to be a story about Council's intention to put a garbage dump in the middle of Maddens Plains!

June 29, 2012 at 5:58 PM

only buy the weekend star as during the week is not worth getting the paper nothing in it anyway thanks jess good reading

June 29, 2012 at 9:19 PM

I only hope my Grandchildren are not denied the luxury of reading the Sunday Papers. In fact I hope they enjoy the privilege of being able to read a newspaper at all!!

pdiaco said:
June 30, 2012 at 6:03 AM

Stitchpuzz is right on the ball regarding online censorship.It became evident that the readers (online citizens) comments were far more intellectual and informative, and incisive than the journalists whose articles readers were commenting on. Let the online readers now be the harbinger of the 'Fifth Estate', ie online independent political commentary directly operated by citizens directly representing its large base of member citizens.

Xrosie said:
June 30, 2012 at 7:45 AM

What about the people without computors, LOTS OF THEM. Guess they just have to be ignorant of the news world. Is news on the radio, and magazines next in line?

June 30, 2012 at 10:14 AM

THERE WILL BE NO CARBON TAX UNDER A GOVERNMENT I LEAD, Julia Gillard, 2010. Not my favourite headline but one I remember.

maggaz said:
June 30, 2012 at 1:27 PM

I enjoy my morning coffee with the newspaper, doing my crosswords, etc. I will really miss the printed word if it comes about. I still read news on the computer, and watch TV, but it is not quite the same. I have the last copy of the Daily Mirror and the Sun, used to enjoy doing the crosswords on the way home from work.

June 30, 2012 at 1:49 PM

My husband likes to read the newspaper each day, especially the financial section. For myself I find newspaper useful for wrapping up litter box contents and other rubbish,slipping in front of a cat about to deposit a furball on my carpet, and for cleaning the windows(newspaper still works better than paper towels). Newspaper is still the best thing to wrap hot chips in too!

ColinJD said:
June 30, 2012 at 7:02 PM

No news is the best news. But no newspaper makes firelighting difficult.

KevinF said:
June 30, 2012 at 10:06 PM

I only buy the newspaper for the crossword.....

July 01, 2012 at 11:27 AM

There is nothing better than reading the newspaper with an aromatic coffee and a croissant on a lazy morning...

Terriki said:
July 02, 2012 at 11:23 AM

No newspaper? what are my dog and I going to fetch each morning!!

July 02, 2012 at 12:28 PM

The loss of newspapers will probably add to the plastic bag creating even more rubbish.

nan_j said:
July 02, 2012 at 5:41 PM

I love reading the news online as I have poor eyesight and find reading news print very difficult. I can increase the font on my computer and I am happy.

pdiaco said:
July 02, 2012 at 11:26 PM

I thought 'The Fourth Estate' topic would be a political discussion because the 'The Fourth Estate' term is a purely political concept, viz the role of the press as a 'regulator' of political conduct.

gm1951 said:
July 03, 2012 at 2:03 PM

I am one of the many who detest reading off a screen - I much prefer to be able to read hardcopy so I can mark important or pertinent bits & pieces. However one of my pet peeves with newspapers is the atrocious spelling of many reporters and the incorrect usage of words. I am sure that, with computers & spellcheck, it would be very easy to correct such mistakes. I also wish real estate agents would learn to spell "dining" in place of "dinning" when thay insert their ads. Would it really do any harm for the publisher to correct obvious spelling errors? I have also observed (especially in our local newspaper) that prolific letter writers seem to get their personal opinions published ad nauseum to the point that they get peeved if their letters are not published - they then take the editor to task over the fact that their letter was not published. Keep the newspapers going - otherwise what am I going to wrap my household scraps in?

July 05, 2012 at 5:53 AM

Come on, Pdiaco. You live in Australia (don't you). The only political debate you'll hear is occasionally in Canberra. Now if it was a sport watchdog... Seriously though, I recently had to appear in court and I was horrified that it might appear in the newspaper. Computer news? Not so bad. Perhaps because I have learned to challenge the info I find on computers while I have some kind of naive faith in the veracity of print.

pdiaco said:
July 06, 2012 at 8:54 AM

On that note of enviable blissful naivety I rest my case :).

July 06, 2012 at 10:56 AM

Uhuh. :)