Sunday, April 25, 2004

Blogging: The New Fourth Estate?

In the Jay Rosen essay I reference above, he quotes from Thomas Carlyle, British historian and the man credited with inventing the term "Fourth Estate." Rosen quotes from the Carlyle speech, but let me extract another quote,for those who won't read the whole thing and will miss it Carlyle was speaking of printers and their presses, and their relationship to democracy, one relevant to bloggers today:
Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures: the requisite thing is that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite.
Carlyle wasn't speaking of some sector of society, but of the individual citizen. "...[T]hat he have a tongue which others will listen to...." That is the essential description of blogging. Newspapers and network television news today are corporations, far removed from the store-front presses of yore. Commercial concerns will color their points of view; capitalistic profit needs will too.

The "Fourth Estate" is you and me. It's our First Amendment guarantee: the right to stand up, shake our fists and make a clamor without fear. The "news media" is just an institutionalisation and commodification of that. What the Internet has done is just what folks predicted: it has allowed the average Joe and Jane to stand up and speak and be heard. She has no gate-keepers to pass through. Opinion and statement stands or falls on its own merits.

Blogging is the new, true Fourth Estate. We are the future.

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