Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Fourth Plantation

ORIGINALLY THE TERM, "The Fourth Estate" referred to "the mob" or "the rabble," as it was used in 19th-century England and France, with the other "estates" being the king, the clergy, and the commons, or the legislature. According to William Safire's New Political Dictionary, the term didn't really refer to the press until the 1820s.

Nowadays, that estate is in serious disrepair, having been pummeled by issues of greed, mistrust, and the effects of the souring economy. Here in Baltimore, we sit and watch The Sun bleed people every other couple of months--first waves of buyouts, and then layoffs, with each respective contraction accompanied by the standard declarations of how a shrunken newspaper will be able to deliver a better product. It's sort of like saying that the less soap you use, the cleaner you'll get.

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