Fifth Estate becoming Levittown?

Scott Baradell at Idea Grove’s Media Orchard writes, Zuckerman: Blogs Are the “Fifth Estate” and references the Mortimer B. Zuckerman article The Wild, Wild Web at USNews.com.

…a blog
block party, or personal op-ed
a commentator’s community…

This made me think of a post I wrote months ago, but never posted. Maybe there was a reason I didn’t post it. 😉 It sat idle for awhile and bits were eventually used in this old post.

But, living on the edge – as I always do (yeah, right) – what better time than now for the original. Please note, I’m thinking way out on the fringe with this. And, it was – and is now – NyQuil induced. Just trying out one analogy of what is happening with blogs.

Update: My apologies if this thing shows up several times somewhere. Since it was such an old post, for some reason it went goofy when i finally ‘published’ it. I don’t know what caused it, but my apologies if I just pinged anyone signed up for this blog a dozen times. Please forgive me.

So, here is the post …

The Fifth Estate – blogs? How about Levittown online?

Are blogs really reshaping Journalism through self-expression via social networks? Are we going from the trustee approach of traditional journalism to the ‘who do you trust’ (anyone with an opinion and internet connection) approach?

Think way back … “…everyday extempore Printing, as we see at present.”

The Fourth Estate: “…in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact, very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings Printing; brings universal everyday extempore Printing, as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. the requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite.”

In the world of ‘new media’ – blogs and the WWW – publishing and ‘citizen journalism’ are now as available to the pedestrian Internet user as a tract home was to returning WWII veterans. OK, more available. But, I hope you get my drift. The architecture of the net and the creation of numerous blogging platforms has enabled citizen voices (journalism or commentators) like nothing before.

Today, the ‘American Dream’ – your own op-ed column – is a reality. Commentators all. But, does this make ‘reporters’ of us all? Only in the sense of this ‘infopinions‘ definition.

infopinions: information and ‘opinion‘ – A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof: “The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion” (Elizabeth Drew)

There is talk of blogs being used to bypass the press. Just as “the Levitt salesman’s pitch promis(ed) opportunities to personalize” (*) their homes – now, business blog wonks, communicators and companies are pitching blogs to help corporations and organizations personalize and manage their brands – and reputations – through conversations.

They promise the ability to:

  • Break through the clutter.
  • Micro-market to specific audiences / customer base.
  • Change the relationship so that the company is in control of the message.
  • Using blogs to create a new reporting and information source to promote business goals.

Levittown sought to remedy Home Ownership Inequality. Blogs remedy (to some extent) the lack of a voice in publishing/MSM (mainstream media). Levittown, sought to give every American their dream home – dream community.

To paraphrase a description of Levittown, by Peter Bacon Hales, and apply it to blogs, they are:

“Built by every computer owner using the most novel and up-to-date of publishing methods (blogs), and capitalize on the deep desire for self-expression now enabled in the Internet era. Blogs offer a “state-of-the-art semantic personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability. (WordPress)” In the form of small, detached (yet linked), single-author Web sites equidistant from any reader in the world and the burgeoning internet adoption slowly sweeping the world.

So, what of blogs (and wikis, too). Certainly they have had an impact. But, the issues of credibility, transparency, process, control, value and editorial concerns will take years to work out. I’m looking forward to the role of blogs in 10 or 20 years. Will they last? How will they morph?

Still, for blogs, it is all about community, divergent views and cultures, and enabling that unique expression. In most blogs, the writing is “extempore“:

“Spoken, carried out, or composed with little or no preparation or forethought. See Synonyms at extemporaneous.”

Finally, on Heroes and Hero Worship (Carlyle), certainly there is a lot of hero worship going on re: blogs. Blog award projects continue to propagate like so many bunnies.

There is debate about the value of this hero worship, too. Excepting the typo, “Doesn’t people see that the emperor has nothing on…?” (Emporers are being exposed) is kind of cute. The Emperor here is the blog ?-lister, not all blogs. However, if your ‘community’ is 10 people, can’t you be their hero? There are heroes in many small blog communities, regardless of what we may think of them. That debate is for another post because some of the heroes are quite frightening.

I like blogs. There is value in blogging. But, blogs won’t/shouldn’t replace journalism. A blog is a new tool. The important question? How to use it. I am not as evangelic as some bloggers – yet, not dismissive, either.

Dave Winer, like the way “Levitt brothers, Alfred and William” did for one community, helped start this online community revolution. He now “preaches the gospel of blog” to Harvard, among other places. (Source)

So, blogs have a role now. For me, learning how they may be creatively (and transparently) be incorporated into public relations pratice is an interesting journey.

More notes, related readings and thoughts from this old post:

The Fourth Estate, known collectively as “press: newspaper writers and photographers” or ” journalism: newspapers and magazines collectively.”

The social network characteristics of blogs are illustrated, for example, by Ross Mayfield’s post, “Blog Tribe Social Network Mapping (Jan. 02, 2003). It examines the Ryze Blog Tribe business networking blog community. The image is to blog networks what a circulation map is to a newspaper’s subscribers (sort of).

Research on the spread of blogs: The state of blogging. “While readership is rising dramatically, authorship is increasing much more slowly,” writes Shel Holtz.

Also see, Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History and Jeffrey Archer’s novel The Fourth Estate. Other sites: Thomas Carlyle (biography) and Fourth Estate (definition).

Carlyle: “…The affairs of the nation were there deliberated and decided; what we were to _do_ as a nation. But does not, though the name Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now, everywhere and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, _out_ of Parliament altogether? Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,–very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings Printing; brings universal everyday extempore Printing, as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. the requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually _there_. Add only, that whatsoever power exists will have itself, by and by, organized; working secretly under bandages, obscurations, obstructions, it will never rest till it get to work free, unencumbered, visible to all. Democracy virtually extant will insist on becoming palpably extant.” (Gutenberg.org)

Levittown – Pop Culture and Newsday’s Long Island: Our History:

Malvina Reynolds described the little box houses of Levittown and its residents as ‘all just the same.'” The same has been said of many blogs. Stereotypes exist re: particular blogging communities like LiveJournal and Xanga. Those are likely based upon the demographics of users, generally dominated by 18-30 year-olds (and younger).

“Gene Horowitz’ bodice-ripping 1980 novel, “The Ladies of Levittown,'” helped to solidify stereotypes of Levittown. This could be a description for many blogs I have read: “a strange yet endearing lot, given to flag-burning ceremonies, exorcisms, bowling, block parties and downing Scotch with parakeets.”

“John O’Hagan’s campy sendup of Levittown in his 1997 documentary, “Wonderland,'” could be blogs, too.

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0 thoughts on “Fifth Estate becoming Levittown?

  1. J.D. Mullane

    “Malvina Reynolds described the little box houses of Levittown and its residents as ‘all just the same.'”
    No she didn’t. Reynolds wrote “Little Boxes” about upscale Daly City, Calif. and was poking fun at upper middle class college educated types (read the lyrics).

    Reynold’s daughter has said that her mother was well aware of Levittown and was disappointed that the song was misconstrued, since she held no grudge with blue collar people who bought Levitt’s houses.

  2. Robert

    Good to hear the contrary report. Seems that some sites have furthered the misinterpretation – as have I by quoting them.

    Do you have a link to something referencing Malvina Reynolds’ feelings on the matter? I’d like to read it.

    And, in relation to blogs – her song sounds more appropriate than before. Currently, I’d say that most ‘adults’ blogging are probably white-collar. But, that’s just anecdotal speculation. No stats to verify it.

    Thanks. J.D.