[ with apologies to H. Potter and J.K. Rowling]
It’s been hot where I am, for most of the last week – blisteringly, sinfully, mind-numbingly hot. But is only weather to blame for the last thread here and its cousin on @ISA’s site seeming not merely Dali-esque but downright fantastic?
As I swelter, I’m up to no more than sharing three jottings related to those posts – what an old friend calls ‘perspective pills’:
1. The ideal of the Fourth Estate – especially as the exclusive preserve of print newspapers — is virtually dead.
I’ve discovered that that’s a forgone conclusion for the über word nerd William Safire (well, he does have an army of paid researchers doing his digging – and yes, they make me jealous). Mea culpa, for brandishing that once-noble phrase in an earlier post. Safire’s Political Dictionary says in the entry for ‘fourth estate’:
The press, a dated phrase now often used in sarcasm.
The phrase was used to put the press on an equal footing with the greatest powers in a nation; in the twentieth century it was taken up by many editors in descriptions of the importance of journalism. The phrase lost its vividness as the other ‘estates’ [clergy, nobility, commoners] faded from memory, and now has a musty connotation. In current use ‘the press’ usually carries with it the aura of ‘freedom of the press’ enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, while critics of the press usually label it with a sneer, ‘the media,’ originally popularised as an advertising term.
Safire and his researcher-moles have settled not on Burke — who usually gets the credit — but William Hazlitt (who might or mightn’t be related to our @Hazlitt on this site) as the coiner of the term. In an 1821 essay, the great contrarian and stylist described one William Cobbett — a pamphleteer with the heart and mind of a first-rate blogger — as follows:
His blows are as hard, and he himself is as impenetrable. One has no notion of him as making use of a fine pen, but a great mutton-fist; his style stuns his readers, and he ‘fillips the ear of the public with a three-man beetle.’ He is too much for any single newspaper antagonist; ‘lays waste’ a city orator or Member of Parliament, and bears hard upon the Government itself. He is a kind of fourth estate in the politics of the country.
2. No one seriously young has the faintest idea of why ‘Fourth Estate’ once made ink-stained hearts beat faster.
From a passing mention of a blogger making a splash in Manhattan – where you once went if bent on getting rich-and-famous in Old Media, and now do better even if you’re already thriving in New Media, according to the (of course wholly unbiased) New York Times:
“I would never get my company involved in a print product,” she said over a Prince song. “That is just a very expensive way of soothing your own ego and feeling important. I can’t see any value in that.”
3. Some stunning parallels – down to the precise words — between today’s shift in media power and the mid-20th-century transition from radio to TV …
… in an exemplary, clear-eyed and whinge-free column by Terry Teachout. Confirming that Mary Dejevsky was wrong to laugh at American newspapers for losing money in digital media experiments ten years ago, he writes in ‘The New Media Crisis of 1949’:
Network TV lost vast amounts of money in its early years. It was only because the existing radio networks were willing to subsidize TV that it survived—leaving CBS and NBC at the top of the heap in the ’50s and ’60s, just as they had been in the ’30s and ’40s. The old media of today have a similar chance to prosper tomorrow if they can survive the heavy financial losses that they’re incurring while they develop workable new-media business models.
In that watershed year:
At year’s end, a survey of 400 TV owners in Washington, D.C., told the tale: Adult attendance at movies was down 72%, while 36.7% of TV owners attended fewer baseball games. Meanwhile, the average amount of time that these Washingtonians spent listening to radio each day had plummeted from three hours and 42 minutes to less than half an hour.
“Maybe we old people can’t adapt successfully to video,” said Jim Jordan, the star of “Fibber McGee and Molly.”
Established radio performers […] flourished well into the ’60s. Everyone else— […] — vanished into the dumpster of entertainment history. The same fate awaits contemporary old-media figures unwilling to grapple with the challenge of the new media, no matter how popular they may be today.
… When I was sixteen, rows of ink on newsprint smelt as sweet as fields of lavender; a lilac bush in full bloom — or my vase of freesias on a hot day, like this one. Enough with the soppy sentiment, I tell myself: out with the old; in with the new.