[I first published this entry on one of my earlier blogs, 'Journalism in the Electronic Information Age', powered by Blogger.com, on June 7, 2001]
[UPDATE, February 29, 2008:
term Fourth Estate refers to the press, both in its explicit capacity
of advocacy and in its implicit ability to frame political issues. The
term goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle in the first half of the 19th
Pressed for time, I didn’t find a very authoritative source to link to, but this Trivia page
on Geocities describes how the coinage of The Fourth Estate (with its
present meaning of the public press, the mass media) has been
attributed to the British politician Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797).
It says that it comes from the following quote in Thomas Carlyle‘s
book, "Heros and Hero Worship in History" (1841): "Burke said that
there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery
yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all."
The three estates in the quote would refer to the British
parliament, the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual and the Commons.
The Lords Temporal and the Lords Spiritual combined being The House of
Lords, the upper House of parliament, while the Commons is The House of
Commons or the British lower House.