The fourth estate is dead; long live the fourth estate

Back in May 2005, Linda Rutherford sent me an email with the subject line: “Demise of the fourth estate.” Linda is now the Vice President of Communications and Strategic Outreach at Southwest Airlines, but she is a former a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald newspaper.

Adam Macbeth John Mulligan and Fionn Downhill at SES San Jose 2008.jpg In her email, Linda wrote, “If you have a few moments, please take a look at this short video. It’s an interesting short movie from the Museum of Media History predicting the demise of the fourth estate.

“The scenario is entertaining, a bit frightening and not too far-fetched.

“It hints at the monumental changes afoot in how consumers will learn about news and form opinions about brands.

“Thought given your role you would enjoy this creative prediction of what’s to come.”

Linda was right. The 8-minute video by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson is a bit frightening. And the scenario it depicted was not too far fetched: “In the year 2014, The New York Times has gone offline. The Fourth Estate’s fortunes have waned. What happened to the news?”

The same day that Linda sent her email, The New York Times Company announced a “targeted staff reduction program that will include approximately 190 employees at The New York Times and the New England Media Group, which includes The Boston Globe.”

While the staff reduction represented less than 2% of the New York Times Company’s total workforce back in 2005, the cuts didn’t end there.

In its report on The State of the News Media 2006, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, asked, “Will we recall this as the year when journalism in print began to die?”

In December 2007, I wrote an article for Search Engine Watch entitled, “Blogs are the new trade press.” I observed, “In many industries, the trade press has imploded.” In our industry, I reported that online publications and group blogs generated close to 88 percent of the coverage of SES Chicago and PubCon. (The remaining 11 percent was – you guessed it – press releases.)

A year later, I reported on the battery of online video crews interviewing speakers between sessions at SES Chicago 2008. I also interviewed Abby Johnson of WebProNews about this trend. Abby is a pioneer in the field and has been producing videos for the WebProNews Video Blog for years.

Abby Johnson, WebProNews, discusses the top trends at SES Chicago

We’re now halfway between 2004, the year that Museum of Media History made its predection, and 2014, the date when it predicted the demise of the fourth estate.
So, I think it’s time to declare: The fourth estate is dead; long live the fourth estate!”

Yes, print journalism continues to implode. The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado’s oldest newspaper, is publishing its last edition today. The Chicago Tribune and LA Times have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Christian Science Monitor is going “all digital.” US News & World Report is now published every other week. PC Magazine is going “all digital.”

Even in my home town, The Boston Globe is cutting 50 jobs in its newsroom, fifth newsroom staff reduction since 2001. At its peak in 2000, the Globe newsroom had 552 full-time jobs. When the latest cuts are complete, there will be about 300 full-time newsroom and editorial employees, plus another 29 news employees at

At the same time that print media are imploding, blogs are exploding into a global phenomenon that has hit the mainstream. According to eMarketer, there were 22.6 million US bloggers in 2007 (12 percent of Internet users) and 94.1 million US blog readers (50 percent).

And comScore Video Metrix reports that Nearly 150 million U.S. Internet users watched an average of 96 videos per viewer in December 2008, or a record 14.3 billion online videos during the month. This means 78.5 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video in December. The duration of the average online video was 3.2 minutes. So, the average online video viewer watched 309 minutes of video, or more than 5 hours.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all of the predictions in the Museum of Media History video turned out to be right. For example, it predicted that Google would acquire TiVo. It didn’t. Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion instead.

Still, I predict that you’ll be able to see the new fourth estate for yourself at SES New York 2009. There will be lots of bloggers and a bunch of videographers. And, who knows, we might even see a print reporter or two — attending sessions like “Publishers & Agencies: New Business Models for Changing Times”, “Video Search Engine Optimization: 2009 and Beyond” and “News Search SEO.”

I’ll be at all three of these sessions, so I’ll let you know if my prediction comes true.

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