ALTHOUGH they are at bottom essentially business enterprises, mainstream media fancy themselves nevertheless as tasked with being the watchdog and voice of the powerless of society. Thus they are tagged as the Fourth Estate or the fourth group of influencers of all aspects of a nation’s life.
The digital age, however, has given birth to a Fifth Estate, namely bloggers, journalists publishing in non-traditional media outlets or social media in general. The emergence of this new Estate has presented traditional mainstream media with two challenges. One is the challenge of survival as a business and two is survival as the advocate of truth, educator of the people, and productive mainstream contributor of developmental ideas for society.
Both are extremely difficult but the second promises to be the more critical challenge to address. The first challenge is a matter of investing in the training or hiring of qualified manpower and the acquiring of the matching equipment needed for the latter to navigate the digital world. The first is simply a financial challenge because re-tooling costs a lot of money.
But then not really, because the more difficult challenge of how to stay the course as voice of truth, watchdog of the voiceless and educator, enlightener of the people is closely intertwined with the challenge of surviving as a business. Like the Fifth Estate enjoy the freedom of a bigger social space to push its truth or lies, as the case may be, and therefore get more likes or more hits that influence advertisers’ and sponsors’ decision to place their ads which are the life-line of media.
Business and politics, media’s main source of funding, being extremely practical, put their money on content that generates more likes, more hits or whatever regardless of whether or not their content is fake news, outright lies or plain garbage. The challenge of mainstream media, consequently, is how to get the support of businessmen and politicians without betraying their commitment to truth and development. This transforms the challenge to survive into the challenge of first finding what is true and beautiful and then of making the latter more attractive to advertisers and sponsors than the lies and fake news that come out of social media.
The freedom of the press to continue to exist is not threatened by changing times, by the digitalization of media. Precisely because it is essentially a business enterprise a newspaper can be practical as any business and adjust to changing times to survive. It is more the continued existence of mainstream media as people’s voice, people’s educator and advocate of truth that is under threat. Hopefully, they do not survive at truth’s expense.