"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." Thomas Jefferson, 1786The term "Fourth Estate" generally refers to the press, or in its most modern sense the collective various news media, which has long been recognized as a powerful, unregulated societal check and balance. An independent and vigorous media is an indispensable protector against a tyranny of the elite or of the mob.
Too bad it no longer exists in America.
On June 9 the New York Times published a post entitled, Help Us Review the Sarah Palin E-Mail Records, in which NYT blogger Derek Willis implores readers to "help us identify interesting and newsworthy e-mails, people and events that we may want to highlight." The former governor's emails were scheduled to be (and were) released the next day, and apparently the grande dame of newspapers found the task of reporting on the information dump (which they had requested) too onerous a slog for her aging, ailing bones.
Never mind that so far Mr. Willis' ochlocratic experiment yielded such world-shakers as "Concern about Transformers" and "Offer to Donate a Wedding Dress to Bristol." No doubt they were hoping for something along the lines of, "Gov. Palin hiding Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa!" The post-modern blurring between the accountability and privilege of the media's job, and the delustional aspiration of every unemployed, politically motivated journalism wannabe is a continuing danger to our republic. No less than an Amendment to our Constitution protects the media's right to investigate and report facts that might be unflattering or even scandalous to rich and common alike. Power and responsibility always go together, a simple lesson that has been tossed aside by the web-based, social mediated, instant gratification, "trust fund" journalists of today. The best thing the New York Times, and other media outlets that are resorting to this so-called "crowdsourcing" technique can do, is buy a sturdy overcoat, a thick-soled pair of shoes, a miniature tape recorder, and get out there and pay their dues.
Or, change the motto of the paper to, "All the news that's in our inbox."