‘Sixth Estate’ to target U.S. policy, fake news

The Sixth Estate, envisioned here, would be a publication that aims to re-organize the previous estates destroyed by the digital age.

LOS ANGELES — A non-profit organization seeks to circumvent traditional and digital news outlets by providing in-depth, comprehensive reporting on hot-button issues in which opinions are plentiful, but evidence supporting such views is not always readily available.

The Sixth Estate is to be a semi-annual publication that aims to address four to five public policy issues per year, according to representatives. Unlike traditional and digital news outlets, which are supported through advertising, The Sixth Estate is to be funded through subscriptions alone, and in many ways it will operate like a modern corporation, with an elected hierarchical management structure in place beholden to its rank-and-file members, whose $10 annual fee and direct voting opportunities will democratically determine the organization’s journalistic agenda from year-to-year.

“It’s unfortunate that our nation’s politics have become so divisive, and our trust in organizations that disseminate information so compromised, that this new paradigm has become necessary, but The Sixth Estate, more than anything, is committed to providing as objective a truth as possible about the best approaches to deal with controversial topics where other institutions presumably have failed,” said Erica Simone, interim director of management for the future publication, whose position also will be carried by vote.

An artistic interpretation of the five estates, which the sixth would seek to rectify, according to proponents.

“So much of the conversation in our society is negative, judgmental, and based in ignorance. Too many of us are busy blaming others for what we say they shouldn’t be doing, when in fact we should stop pointing fingers and start focusing on solutions. Unfortunately, this critical piece of the puzzle – focusing on solutions – is brushed aside and decided by forces that may or may not have the public’s interest at heart.”

To ensure that The Sixth Estate is funded sufficiently, Simone said the organization will strive to market itself as a noble, worthwhile civic organization aimed to attract the ‘brightest and most passionate individuals’ who look to bypass the ‘failing aspects of the current system’ in order to ‘create a path that will allow honest dialogue and real actionable steps toward progress on our nation’s biggest policy impasses.’

To keep this ambitious endeavor in check, Simone said members of The Sixth Estate are to be prohibited from contributing any more money than the baseline subscription requires, and no vote within the organization will count more than any other one.

“Every step will be taken to safeguard the integrity and purpose of the publication,” said Simone. “It is hoped that our membership will grow based on its non-partisan ideals, and that the management team of The Sixth Estate will use its resources to summarize complex issues in a way that is comprehensible to the general public and based on the best, most-current and well-founded research, so that ultimately the team’s findings will provide a guideline to solve major problems.

The Sixth Estate will be published twice per year and made available to voters for free to review and hopefully press their elected officials to implement.”

The name tag an education advocate recently used to identify himself at a conference on school choice.

The Evolution of American estates

According to experts, The Sixth Estate will be an extension of The Fifth Estate, comprised of outlying viewpoints of contemporary society, often associated with bloggers, celebrities, and whistle-blowers whose criticisms are generally published through non-traditional digital news outlets and social media.

The Fifth Estate extended the sequence of the preceding Fourth Estate — the traditional mainstream press — as well as the First, Second and Third estates — which in the United States, are often associated with the separation of powers — the legislature, executive, and judiciary branches of government.

While many experts have noted that the rising distrust of government in recent decades has roughly corresponded to the rising power of the Internet, the advertising revenue and audience reach that has been stripped from traditional news outlets to support digital ones has not led to a transfer of quality journalism.

“The changes from an offline to online world has brought with it not only unimaginable benefits to society at large, but also a myriad of disastrous consequences for the American population as a whole – namely, increased cyber-crime, national divisiveness, electoral candidacy confusion and fraud,  and the widespread dissemination of ‘fake news,’” said Peter Grimble, a sociologist at the University of California Los Angeles.

While individual cases of voter fraud are against the law and sometimes happen, the investigation into the wide-scale tampering of the 2016 presidential election by Russia continues, an example of the extent of cyber-crime now possible in the digital age.

Grimble contended that The Sixth Estate might be necessary to re-legitimizing the five other American estates, once again making it mainstream and purposeful to be an active member of civil society ‘on and offline.’

“On the one hand, we live in an age in which people are empowered to spread information, and while the sharing of videos of cops abusing their authority during routine traffic stops might help us form our own opinions about law enforcement, in reality the level of dialogue and engagement is limited, and people generally are showing less critical thinking in the ways they both absorb and present information …

“While we are angered by the cop pulling his gun on a guy with a busted taillight, of course, where is the aggregate statistical information from police departments about the number of officer-involved shootings occurring per county per year, compared to people of non-color? Under what circumstances do these shootings occur? Do some people or places seem to be statistically more dangerous to both police and citizens than others? If so, why, and what can be done about it? Are all cops trained the same? Is their training still relevant, or do some cops handle some people or places or situations differently, or better? If so, what can we learn from them?

“While such videos about abusive cops are often aggravating and sensational, the facts surrounding these incidents might tell us more about their reality and the nature of the problem.

“Instead, thanks to the digital age, we can look forward to some blowhard’s tweet that bashes cops or criminals or average citizens about how they behave and issues in fact few of us fully understand, and we react likewise — with little understanding — and no significant changes occur anyway.”

Viral videos depicting police abuse, or even this one showing an officer changing a woman’s tire, often galvanize the public’s emotions but lack context or the statistical information necessary to help the public really understand the scope of a problem, according to some experts.

Grimble argued that in the new era of cash-strapped traditional news outlets and the overabundance of questionably-trained digital news bloggers and social media ‘influencers,’ the investigative stories and statistical information that the nation so desperately needs to better understand its problems is so desperately lacking.

Grimble argued that it is because of the rise of the Internet along with the decline of traditional literacy skills that has resulted in a vacuum of worthwhile, in-depth news coverage on important public policy issues, which has led to the development and spread of ‘fake news.’

“One blogger might splice a paragraph from another blogger without either verifying the validity of the original source, which might turn out to be erroneous, and this swirling-around effect of misinformation and unaccountability across the Internet might potentially morph into all-out, unsubstantiated, even criminal lie — that is, if the unverifiable information wasn’t created in the first place to deliberately and deceptively rally or divide public opinion, which these days more often than not seems to be the case.

“So, in essence, we’ve traded traditional journalism — with its traditional rigor as well as traditional gate-keeping and traditional potential for corruption — for a much more decentralized system of information sharing that has had some success exposing lies and corruption that we might not have been exposed to otherwise — such as national secrets released by Wikileaks — but even so, what of it? This vast personal platform of social media for news ‘gathering’ and news ‘making’ also has allowed the proliferation of very partisan, very divisive and sometimes very unfounded ‘fake news’ stories that reinforce people’s beliefs instead of making them examine them more critically, a very poor way for building national consensus.

“What’s happened in the past few decades is that our society has traded the town-hall meeting — with its back-door deals, stage theater, and power-plays – for a never-ending game of telephone and its falsifying facts.

“The truth is, neither method for sharing information is ideal for advancing democratic discussion.”

The future of education and its purpose is one that The Sixth Estate interim director Erica Simone hopes the publication investigates.

The Sixth Estate’s proposed first act of neighborliness: Improving public education

Simone said she hopes one of the first issues that The Sixth Estate team votes to investigate is the state of public education.

“There seems to be a lot of frustration about what constitutes a good education these days, often times depending on our individual hopes and backgrounds,” said Simone. “I known in my hometown of Los Angeles, the question that must be asked is even more blunt — is public school a place to babysit and pacify kids while their parents work low-paying jobs, a place where students might learn a few manners and half-taught habits of dependability and literacy before they are released into the workforce to fill the same low-paying jobs of their parents? Here, anyway, it seems like it.

“Or, is public school a place where we want kids to learn how to think critically and work well with others, so they can be successful contributors to society, preparing them for college or a skilled vocational program when they graduate? And are we really setting up a system to accomplish this, a system of high expectations for students, with the consistency and accountability and the options necessary to do so, or are we just collecting tax dollars in our classrooms, no matter what lessons are being taught, and as a result just passing the buck?

“When we speak of school choice in education, whose choice are we referring to? The parents’ right to choose what kind of school their kids go to; the public’s right to choose what school is best suited for students whose parents don’t bother to do so, based on the needs of the workforce; or the students’ right to choose the best option for themselves, based on their own talents and intentions?

“Perhaps the real question is, what kind of economy are we trying to create – a first-world or third-world one, or maybe some combination between? Perhaps we need to answer that question first before we delve into the question of what our educational system should be …

“Whatever the question or answer may be, the hopes that some have expressed of demolishing our struggling public school system should only be realistically considered in as much as there is a viable and better plan to replace it – a plan that is based on research, not a whim, with actionable steps determined by society’s, parents’ and students’ needs. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Simone said The Sixth Estate will begin its membership drive next week. She hopes up to one percent of the U.S. population — approximately 3.25 million Americans — will subscribe to the publication for $10 each. This would create an initial revenue stream of approximately $30.25 million, enough to support a staff of fifty people and sustain the organization through its first year of research and recommendations.

Angelica Sloane, June 20, 2017

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