What is Fourth Estate?

Executive Editor Frank Muraca’s parting letter from the editor to the Mason community:

When I first sat down to write this letter, I spent a lot of time trying to tie all of the coverage I’ve worked on into one final mic-dropping message. As a reporter, I’ve spent the larger part of my time explain the larger forces that shape our lives here at Mason – whether it’s the relationship between Virginia politics and our tuition, the need for more financial aid, or deep questions about the psyche of the Mason community.

While I’m immensely proud of those articles (they’re important conversations to have!), I think Fourth Estate itself deserves the attention of this farewell letter.

I always say my best moment as editor of Fourth Estate was on a Friday afternoon in September, when a reporter from the New York Times came down to Mason’s campus to learn about our very young organization.

Some context. My co-editor Colleen Wilson and I were fresh off of a summer of building our vision for Fourth Estate and grappling with the mechanics of its execution. We knew that the university was in the midst of enormous change, and students were almost completely unaware of what those changes meant for their education. Mason needed a new way of explaining the changes

When the rubber hit the road in late August, each week was a constant reevaluation of our direction and challenged everything we thought we could accomplish. After months of mapping and planning, we weren’t sure if Fourth Estate would add up to what we had built in our heads.

Fast forward to September. The other staff and I were sitting in a corner of the Office of Student Media on the bottom floor of the Hub discussing our organization with the New York Times.

Jennifer, the reporter, asked the staff to describe their experiences thus far, to work through the successes and challenges and what they thought the direction was. I was sitting in the back working on a story. One by one, the staff perfectly iterated what Fourth Estate was all about – there were challenges to informing the Mason community, and this was the organization that was going to experiment until we found the best way to overcome those challenges. To hear the staff both explain in their own words what their work was going towards, and then to find nuances of that vision that I had not even considered – was the most rewarding experience as a leader, an editor, and a student at Mason.

While I’ve written a lot over the past couple of years, the one that got the most feedback was “Mason’s Identity Crisis.” I’ll refrain from reiterating the entire argument here, but essentially the idea that Mason’s commitment to innovation was hurting its ability to build a strong community. This article sparked reaction from students, faculty and alumni about the essence and direction of the university.

But as I mention in the essay, what’s ironic is that Mason’s culture is what made Fourth Estate possible. Broadside was perhaps the oldest identifiable trait about Mason that has existed since the beginning … only 50 years ago. Creating Fourth Estate was a very Mason thing to do. We were stuck. We needed to find a creative solution out, and we were able to do it – at the expense of a major tradition that received almost no backlash from the community.

Again, I’ll let the pro’s and con’s of that be hashed out elsewhere. But Fourth Estate owes a lot to the environment that lead to its creation. And as an editor, I owe a lot to the countless people who helped turn Fourth Estate from a vision to where it is today in such a short amount of time.

With that, I would like to thank a few people for their partnership and support.

A special thanks to our faculty advisor Kathryn Mangus and the Office of Student Media who put so much trust and support into this venture. At the end of the day, this crazy experiment would not have been possible without their support.

A special thanks to the entire Fourth Estate team – editors, writers, photographers, videographers, designers and the rest. As a student organization, your work made all of this possible. Fourth Estate and the greater Mason community are in your debt.

A special thanks to Colleen Wilson whose energy and drive set much of the foundation of the organization and setting a high bar for what we could achieve.

And a special thanks to Hau Chu, who has consistently challenged both himself and the team to keep readers in mind and look for the best ways to improve ourselves. I have no doubt that he will lead Fourth Estate into the next successful chapter next year.