NOTHSTINE: Freedom and the Fourth Estate

Many newsrooms could once brag that during the Great Depression they did not have any layoffs. Journalism was long considered recession proof. As an industry and career, journalism is of course undergoing a prolific transformation. The economic term is creative destruction.

Forty percent of traditional media has vanished in the last decade. To top it off, like many institutions in America now, journalism not only too often fails to tell the truth but also is riddled with an agenda. When this happens, journalists perpetuate a disservice to those they claim to educate and uplift. No wonder trust in the media continues its downward spiral.

Print media, which once reigned over the American landscape, brought down a presidency. Films such as “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” depict the importance and power of investigative journalism. An important lesson endures amid an industry’s chaos: independent and truth-oriented media is essential for a free and flourishing society.

Furthermore, with the withering away of civil society and the rise of secularism, the need for more thoughtful forces to serve as a buffer between man and the state becomes all the more critical. It was the notable 18 th century conservative British statesman Edmund Burke who is credited for coining the term “the fourth estate.” Burke knew that along with the citizenry, government, and the Church, the news media played a critical role for health in society and the common good.

Media that concerns itself with the truth should demand our attention. Unfortunately, truth is becoming harder to decipher for many in our post-factual culture. There are still many great journalists and scribes chipping away at scandal, corruption, and tyranny, but more are needed. The biggest winners of an unprofessional and entertainment-focused media culture are certainly not the amused consumers, but the politicians and others who are all too comfortable and at ease under the corrupting forces of power and influence.

As a growing and economically expanding state, North Carolina is well placed to have a deepening influence on the nation. Undoubtedly, it is vital for the state to have a strong and independent media presence. And as current events should point out so well to readers in a diverse state, North Carolina deserves more than just cheerleaders of the moral and cultural decline.

It is imperative for journalists to continually embrace the code of ethics put forward by the Society of Professional Journalists. One of the main guiding principles of the society is to “seek truth and report it.” Much of the reporting on House Bill 2 has, of course, ignored this rule for the kind of sensationalism driven by the agenda of the herd. There are endless examples, another being the lack of faith-informed reporters in newsrooms who easily alienate their highly religious states and regions.

While we all suffer from the state of the media today and its perceived demise, the reimagining and resurrection of true journalism is primed to begin in a state like North Carolina. This is a good thing, because there is little doubt that the survival of the American experiment depends in large part on a free and vibrant press.