Monday, November 30, 2015

The Social Responsibility of the Press: Lessons From the 1947 Hutchins Commission

This article originally appeared on February 26, 2015.

Journalists and the media platforms that broadcast their work play an essential role in the American version of democracy. Those who write the news, produce, and distribute it act as an unofficial fourth estate of government. Founders including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson felt that the press should act as a watchdog that keeps-in-check the actions of the executive, legislative, and judicial estates of government.

The history of journalism is necessarily entangled with the history of technology. With each technological revolution, the fourth estate has undergone considerable transformations. In its earliest appearance town criers would read the news aloud to a largely illiterate citizenry. The press came to refer to the news when figures such as  John Campbell, John Peter Zenger, and Benjamin Franklin established press-printed news broadsheets; early forms of print newspapers. The technological transition passed from an oral, to print, to electronic, and currently to digital medium which has been described as a networked fourth estate or a fifth estate. Marshall McLuhan's (now banal) declaration that, "the medium is the message," points to the fact that technology influences how we receive, process, and react to information.