'Fifth Estate' influence surpasses traditional media, ethicist says

Kelly McBride, an ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, said today that a “Fifth Estate” has become more influential than the traditional Fourth Estate.

“The Fifth Estate is tied to information in ways that resonate with the audience, because that is their first goal, to be influential,” she said. It’s made up of former journalists, citizen activists, bloggers and nonprofits who commit acts of journalism but are not paid as professional journalists, she said.

In an era of transitioning news media, the values and audience of journalism are changing as well, said McBride and Michael Fancher, a former executive editor for the Seattle Times.

Traditional journalists value independence, inclusion and balance, truth and financial stability, McBride said. The Fifth Estate values advocacy, unheard voices, truth as members see it and influence, she said. Both value storytelling.

So how can traditional journalists adapt from the lessons of the Fifth Estate?

Fancher said journalism needs to put “the public back in public trust” through adapting to methods of crowd sourcing, including more voices in content creation and using social media in ways beyond just pushing content.

McBride said newsroom best practices should include transparency, minding the back channel, moderating citizen comments and seeking partnerships, both professional and amateur.

--By Daniela Feldman