When referring to fourth estate, you are referring to journalists as a whole. The fourth estate encompasses all of those who report the news. The first use of the term was by Edmund Burke in 1787 during a debate in parliament. It is used to accentuate the freedom of the press, not to be confused with the term "fourth branch" which proposes that they are not free from the government.
The press is called the fourth estate in the United States usually because they observe the political process. They do this to make sure the participants do not exploit the democratic system. They play a crucial role in the outcome of political issues and candidates. This is where the media is often called the fourth branch of the government instead of the fourth estate. It can be a controversial term depending on the thoughts of those using it.
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