Fourth Watch — a media watchdog newsletter

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Let’s survey the political and cultural landscape in 2021. We’ve gone from a national media apparatus obsessed with their perceived existential fight with the reality TV host in the White House, to one that, by and large, is serving as the public relations arm of the administration. There is one social media outlet – Twitter – which amplifies an echo chamber to unparalleled proportions, while another social media outlet – Facebook – attracts a bipartisan vitriol at least in part because of the notion it has failed to provide the business model it promised. There are billionaire tech moguls buying up historic media outlets like the Washington Post and Time Magazine as vanity projects, while the relevance and staying power of marquee digital media outlets are being seriously questioned.

All this while we are in the middle of a seemingly-endless pandemic that, in theory, should unify the country around facts, but instead has pushed the fringes to the forefront and increased the divisiveness in the media.

We are in a strange and interesting moment. Let’s step back, and dig in.

The media and culture brand Fourth Watch is a 3-times-per-week newsletter, documenting what’s most interesting and important in this current media landscape we’re inhabiting.

There are a few important principles, which I often return back to with Fourth Watch. First and foremost, this is not an “I hate the media” newsletter. I love the media. I want it to be better. For 10 years, I was in the media – with stops at CNN, Fox News, NBC, TheBlaze, Mediaite and TVNewser. It is because I love the media that it so pains me to see what it has become, particularly in the past 4 years. The introspection-free, self-serious, geographically-insulated apparatus that feeds most of what counts as “the media” these days has sadly lost its way. Trust in the media has always been low. But as many in the media on both sides of the political spectrum become more polarized – and polarizing – trust in the media is now at historical lows.

This is a newsletter about the media, by someone who was in the media, but is now very much outside the media – and, ideally it is for people who are both in the media and people who are so far outside the media they don’t even think “the media” is something they’re particularly interested in.

There are four key pillars of Fourth Watch – intellectual honesty, intellectual consistency, intellectual curiosity, and intellectual discomfort. Honesty and consistency – independence from either political party, independence from any established belief. And curiosity and discomfort – a never-ending desire to be challenged, to interrogate our own beliefs. Disagreement strongly welcomed.

On the independence part, some basic “full disclosure” elements about me – I voted for Bush in 2004, Obama in 2008, no one in 2012 because my job was so closely tied to the election for CNN I felt uncomfortable casting a ballot, and in 2016 and 2020, I couldn’t bring myself to stomach voting for either candidate so I went with who I felt best embodied the type of candidate I’d like to see in the Oval Office (I wrote in Judge Judy in 2016 and Kanye West in 2020). I am a registered independent, and, while Fourth Watch is not overtly political, this will likely veer into political territory at times – and I’ll try my best to continue that transparency as much as possible.

Newsletters are also, by definition, a “long read.” Like the media, I love Twitter, but Twitter is so counterproductive to actual discussion. (Like some in the media, I have tried to consciously uncouple from the platform, only to return again, many times. It’s a rough breakup.) This is an opportunity to go long, and deep, rather than shallow and context-free. Nuance over nonsense.

If Fourth Watch was about me, it would truly be a failure. This is a reflection of the audience – an interactive conversation. The newsletter is full of breaking news nuggets, exclusive interviews and other features – in addition to the commentary. (And email me your thoughts!

So, why “Fourth Watch”? A few reasons. “Fourth Watch” refers first and foremost to the “Fourth Estate” or fourth power. The Fourth Estate refers to the press, or news media, or journalism in general. In America, the reference to the Fourth Estate is often contrasted with the three branches of government, with the press playing a watchdog role. However dating back earlier to Europe, the Fourth Estate was a separate entity from the nobility, the clergy and the commoners. In a way, there were the two spectrums of elites, and the people – and the press, to be the conduit, the distiller. But “Fourth Watch” also connotes a more detailed analysis – not just giving something a first look, but a series of interrogations. What you find on a fourth watch of a TV show, a fourth read of a book, a fourth examination of a particularly insane cultural moment – it’ll be far more substantive than what you’ve got on watch one.

So join me? Let’s build a better media together.

– Steve Krakauer