Journalism and the Fourth Estate for your next research paper

In a course on mass communication you’re likely to cover topics such as broadcast journalism, news media and investigative journalism. Journalism is also known as the fourth branch of government, or the Fourth Estate, because it plays such an important role in our democracy. In order for the public to make decisions when voting, they must be well informed on the issues.

Learn more about the history of journalism. (Credit: Wannabe Reporter)

Learn more about the history of journalism. (Credit: Wannabe Reporter)

The news media wields great power in its ability to shape public opinion. For this and many other reasons, the history of journalism would make for an interesting research paper topic.

Can journalism be saved?

A good place to start your research on journalism history is at Questia where you can read millions of full-text books, articles, journals, newspapers and encyclopedias. But what really makes Questia an ideal resource for college students is the library of research tutorials and videos that show you how to research your paper, cite and store your sources, write your paper and create your bibliography in the appropriate format.

On the subject of journalism, be sure to check out the book, Can Journalism Be Saved? Rediscovering America’s Appetite for News, by Rachel Davis Mersey.

This book reviews the complicated challenges facing journalism, tracing its 19th-century community-oriented origins and documenting the vast expansion of the news business via blogs and other Internet-enabled outlets, user-generated content, and news-like alternatives.

Mersey discussed the great influence that media has over shaping public opinion noting that this influence fell into two categories:

  • Societal influence: The ability of a newspaper to gain trust from the readers
  • Commercial influence: The newspaper’s capacity to circulate via subscriptions and sales and to shape buying decisions

“Of course, societal influence and commercial influence are intertwined because it is the former that gives the latter any value. A newspaper with absolutely zero societal influence will not be able to sell copies nor attract advertisers,” Mersey concluded.

Role of journalism in the election cycle

You may have noticed how much news coverage there is regarding the 2016 presidential election. Candidates are working hard to build their image and campaign platform. According to an article, “Media as the ‘Fourth Estate’” from Professor Cynthia Boaz of the University of San Francisco, the role of the media during the election cycle includes:

  • Primary season: The goal is to win over Iowa and New Hampshire
  • Horserace coverage: Reporting who is ahead, the statistics and public opinion polls
  • Sound bites: Short comments from candidates
  • “Line of the Day”: Presidential manipulation of the press setting the news agenda for the day

The role of the White House Press Secretary was described as “the apex of a huge public relations apparatus in the executive branch which devotes an extraordinary amount of staff, resources, and time to generating a positive image of the president.”

Boaz believes that because of the influence that the news media have, we now find that political parties have less influence in elections. Instead of the issues taking front and center, it is the personality of the candidate that often is the primary determinant in the election outcome.

Online journalism

Colin Meek posted, “The online journalism timeline,” in a March 10, 2006, post for According to Meek, journalism made its first foray onto the Internet in 1994. It didn’t take long for online journalism to become a central news hub in people’s lives.

Some of the highlights from the online journalism timeline included:

  • December 1997: BBC online started a full service
  • March 1999: The first RSS headline syndication was developed by Netscape (RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, it provides news feeds on the web)
  • February 2000: Associated Press (AP) launched streaming news, launched news in spoken form

A milestone in online journalism was reached in the aftermath of the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Some news sites couldn’t handle the demand.

“Following the September 11th attacks in the US, online editors are advised to plan ahead to build systems that can cope with surges in demand,” Meek said.

Learn more about communications and journalism history at Questia.

What is one moment you remember most in journalism history? Tell us in the comments.

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