Sometimes, you have two groups of friends you deliberately keep separate, because you know they would disagree on many of life’s principles. My workout pals and my drinking buddies rarely get together. Same goes for my neighbors and my journalism friends.
For 18 months, Poynter has been working with a group of people we’ve dubbed the Fifth Estate. We met them during the course of our work on the Sense-Making Project, an ongoing partnership with the Ford Foundation. The Project is designed to examine how journalism remains strong and citizens stay informed, while fewer professionals do the storytelling and more independent voices rise to prominence.
We call them the Fifth Estate because they found a place of influence after the rise (and some would argue decline) of the Fourth Estate, the world of professional journalists who get a paycheck to cover the news.
We are bringing thought leaders from the Fourth and the Fifth Estates together on Tuesday, June 29 at the Newseum in Washington D.C., to get to know each other and explore how to work together. We know they have different values, different goals, and they don’t always respect each other.
But we also know they share some common ground. For the most part, folks working in the Fifth Estate want to make a difference. They want to be heard and elevate the voices of others. They’d also like to pay their bills. That’s what we hear from traditional journalists, too, when we ask them why they do what they do.
Yet, the Fourth and Fifth Estates are highly critical of each other. Fourth Estaters sometimes dismiss the Fifth Estate as lightweights. Fifth Estaters talk about the Fourth Estate as dinosaurs or has-beens.
On Tuesday, we’re going to look at what’s emerging from this tension: a co-existence and cooperation that has potential to produce some good journalism.
Ana Marie Cox, who built her reputation as the original editor of Wonkette, the snarky political blog that paved the way for all the other snarky, political blogs, will ask during her luncheon address, “I have 1.5 million Twitter followers, how come Rahm Emmanuel won’t return my phone calls?”
Cox is a Fifth Estater who gained enough influence that the Fourth Estate took notice. From her days as an independent blogger she has moved to a stint blogging for Time and she wrote a political satire, “Dog Days.” She is currently GQ‘s Washington correspondent and a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. Her independence remains her cachet.