Alternative media are media (newspapers, radio, television, magazines, movies, Internet, etc.) which provide alternative information to the mainstream media in a given context, whether the mainstream media are commercial, publicly supported, or government-owned. Alternative media differ from mainstream media along one or more of the following dimensions: their content, aesthetic, modes of production, modes of distribution, and audience relations. Alternative media often aim to challenge existing powers, to represent marginalized groups, and to foster horizontal linkages among communities of interest. Proponents of alternative media argue that the mainstream media often perpetuate traditional hegemonic power relations via their selection of content and their rhetorical and structural framing of news and information. While alternative media shares mainstream media’s rhetorical, structural, and discursive potential to promote or perpetuate an ideological framework, alternative media aims to provide a critical perspective and promote counter-hegemonic and subaltern discourse.
Because the term "alternative" has connotations of self-marginalization, some media outlets now prefer the term "independent" over "alternative".
Several different categories of media may fall under the heading of alternative media. These include, but are not limited to, radical media, dissident and social movement media, ethnic/racial media, indigenous media, community media, subcultural media, student media, and avant-garde media. Each of these categories highlights the perceived shortcomings of dominant media to serve particular audiences, aims and interests, and attempts to overcome these shortcomings through their own media.
- 1 Definition
- 2 History
- 3 Theory
- 4 Forms of Media
- 5 Aesthetics
- 6 Racial and Ethnic Media
- 7 Activism
- 8 Audiences
- 9 Unexplored areas
- 10 See also
- 11 References
The traditional, binary definition of alternative media as stated above has been expanded in the last decade. Simply comparing alternative media to the mainstream media ignores the profound effect that making media has on the makers. As producers and actors within their community, modern alternative media activists redefine their self-image, their interpretation of citizenship, and their world. Clemencia Rodriguez explains, "I could see how producing alternative media messages implies much more than simply challenging the mainstream media ... It implies having the opportunity to create one's own images of self and environment; it implies being able to recodify one's own identity with the signs and codes that one chooses, thereby disrupting the traditional acceptance of those imposed by outside sources."
Michael Albert has written that primarily, organizations self-identify as alternative. He suggests that
an alternative media institution...doesn't try to maximize profits, doesn't primarily sell audience to advertisers for revenues (and so seeks broad and non-elite audience), is structured to subvert society's defining hierarchical social relationships, and is structurally profoundly different from and as independent of other major social institutions, particularly corporations, as it can be. An alternative media institution sees itself as part of a project to establish new ways of organizing media and social activity and it is committed to furthering these as a whole, and not just its own preservation.
With the increasing importance attributed to digital technologies, questions have arisen about where digital media fit in the dichotomy between alternative and mainstream media. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other similar sites, while not necessarily created to be information media, increasingly are being used to spread news and information, potentially acting as alternative media as they allow ordinary citizens to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional, mainstream media and share the information and perspectives these citizens deem important. Additionally, digital media provide an alternative space for deviant, dissident or non-traditional views, and allow for the creation of new, alternative communities that can provide a voice for those normally marginalized by the mainstream media. However, some have criticized the weaknesses of the Web. First, for its ability to act as both "alternative and a mass medium brings with it the tension of in-group and out-group communication." Second, the Web "rarely lives up to its potential" with constraints to access.
Digital technologies have also led to an alternative form of video more commonly known as citizen generated journalism. Individuals and smaller groups have the potential to describe and make public their interpretations of the world. Video shot on camcorders, FLIP cameras, and now cell phones have been utilized by the alternative media to commonly show human rights abuses. In turn the mainstream media picks up on these videos when it fits their narrative of what it deems "newsworthy".
In his work on alternative and radical media, John D. H. Downing discusses the way this binary definition developed out of the politically polarized Cold War context, which produced a recognizable mainstream to which alternative media could be compared. Downing defined alternative media as radical media, and, like many scholars, critiqued the limiting nature of the binary definition, especially within the contemporary post-modern era. The traditional binary definition of alternative media stated above has been critiqued and expanded in the last decade. Current discussions of alternative media are concerned with the impact of post-industrial culture and how to redefine the term in a post-modern framework. Contemporary definitions of the term increasingly address the critical, contextual, and structural elements of alternative media, as well as the processes involved in its production and its highly fragmented audience. Contemporary definitions also seek to recognize the profound effect that making media can have on the makers.
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky proposed a concrete model for the filtering processes (biases) of mainstream media, especially in the United States, called the propaganda model. They tested this empirically and presented extensive quantified evidence supporting the model. Through an extensive analysis of the financial roots that drive American news media as well as an in-depth look at coverage of specific news events, Herman and Chomsky demonstrate that mainstream news content represents the political and economic interests of the state and other varied powerful corporate entities. Any content that runs contrary to this status quo faces challenges in establishing mainstream credibility, and is consequently prohibited from being able to contribute to the democratic public sphere. The model is based upon four "filters" that impact news content. These filters are the consolidation of media ownership to a scant few all-powerful corporations, the influence and integration of advertising in mass media, the dubious reliability of experts and sources utilized by the news, and the concept of “flak,” which involves controlled negative responses to media content. They also note the importance of the historical context of anticommunism in the 20th century as a way to see how the mass media is prioritized to deliver a very specific narrative in the news.
Communication scholar Robert W. McChesney, inspired in part by the work of Chomsky and Herman, has linked the failures of the mainstream press primarily to corporate ownership, pro-corporate public policy, and the myth of "professional journalism." He has published extensively on the failures of the mainstream press, and advocates scholarship in the study of the political economy of the media, the growth of alternative media, and comprehensive media policy reforms.
Ben Bagdikian has also written about the takeover of biased media, with particular attention to the giant conglomerates that own them. He argues that because five large conglomerates own the majority of American media, politics and general media influence in America are in jeopardy, and that the practices of these “Big Five” result in cooperation and mutual aid more than competition. Bagdikian contends that while the letter of American law does not cite these dealings as monopolistic, they are, for all intents and purposes, exactly that. In the vein of Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model, politically radical and alternative perspectives are either marginalized or ignored by these conglomerates.
Whereas some alternative media theorists (e.g., Chris Atton) propose broad definitions of media alterity, parecon theorist and Z Magazine cofounder Michael Albert incorporates the politico-economic critique of mainstream media into his definition of alternative media. In answering the question "What makes alternative media alternative?" he suggests that alternative media institutions should feature an anti-corporate structure, not just alternative media content. Along these lines, Albert has criticized publications such as The Nation and the Village Voice for replicating corporate hierarchies and divisions of labor.
While the Propaganda Model resonates in productive ways with the way in which media systems have developed in the United States context, this theory might fall short in describing the situation in nations outside of the American context. The Propaganda Model would have a hard time explaining nations with a weak communications infrastructure (somewhere like Zimbabwe), heavily funded and state sponsored public broadcasting television stations (such as Australia), or with a strong tradition of partisan print and televised journalism.
Public sphere plays a key role in deliberative democracy model, emphasizing an arena where citizens can meet and exchange ideas as equals. Habermas addressed public sphere as “a domain of our social life in which such a thing as public opinion can be formed”. He further identified three key characters: participation is open to everyone, all participants are considered equal, and any issue can be raised for rational debate. However his early conception of public sphere was “a piece of bourgeois, masculinist ideology that functioned to legitimate an emergent from class rule” that receives abundant criticisms.
First of all, Habermas assumed everyone has the ability to set aside their differences, and be treated as if they were social and economic equals in public sphere for discussion public matters. However this is unrealistic, since systematic social inequalities can never be eliminated, pre-determined social and demographic background will generate inequality and exclusions in public sphere. Moreover, the informal pressures, digital gap, and culture differences will marginalize the participation of subordinate group members.
Secondly, contrary to Harbermas’ claim that a single, overarching public sphere is a positive and desirable state of affairs, critics argued the importance of the proliferation of a multiplicity of publics. The promotion of a single sphere does not leave room for dissenting opinion, members of subordinated groups would have no arenas for deliberation among themselves about their needs, and may result in the consequence of the spiral of silence. Therefore marginalized groups must create their own publics, which Fraser calls "subaltern counter-publics"., spaces where these groups can discuss their own identities, opinions, and interests. From these counter publics, groups can then assert their interests into the larger public. Counter-public sphere proposes a politics that not only simply be independent from, but also aims at challenging the dominant public sphere.
Also, in the late capitalism of the twentieth century, Habermas’ bourgeois public sphere was becoming corrupted by mass media in manipulating public opinion, the management of politics and by large organizations in shaping social needs. The citizens’ horizontal communication in the public sphere was constricted by the influence of state and capitalism
As a response to the above deficits of bourgeois public sphere, several counter public sphere models were proposed. One is Hauser’s rhetorical public sphere  that focuses on more specific issues enabling marginalized topics to get attention and discussed. Fraser’s model emphasizing on identity, she suggested the existence of “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses”, feminist subaltern counterpublic is one example. Fraser also proposed a transnational public sphere that going beyond the boundaries of nation states. A proletarian public sphere developed by Negt and Kluge was considered as a “self-defense organ”, aiming at “the protection of individuals from the direct influence of bourgeois interests and ideologies”.
People perceive the world in snippets. Information is selected, organized, and interpreted in moments. Sociologist Eriving Goffman believed that people used primary frameworks particular to their social group to interpret and understand the world. In Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, Goffman explains these analytical frameworks and the vulnerabilities that they can create. He asserts that frames not only organize meaning but also involvement. Framing research that has evolved from Goffman’s work indicates that the media and institutions can frame narratives in ways that yield desired results. These framing tactics silence oppositional voices by altering the discourse, strategically shifting the focus off the oppositional narrative via red herrings, and thus winning public opinion.
In “Journalistic ‘Paradigms’ of Civil Protests: A Case Study in Hong Kong” Joseph Chan and Chi-Chuan Lee show how political ideology creates journalistic paradigms. They explore the leftist, rightist and centralist journalistic paradigm in Hong Kong. Chan and Lee define paradigm as a socially constructed worldview that indicates to journalists where to look and not look, and guides them in what to discover. Essentially, the political views of a news organization influence the manner in which the news is presented.
The “protest paradigm” is the idea that mass media marginalizes protest groups through their depictions of the protesters, and, by doing so, subsequently support the status quo. The “protest paradigm” is the idea that mass media marginalizes protest groups through their depictions of the protesters, and, by doing so, subsequently support the status quo. In “Framing Effects of Television News Coverage of Social Protest” Douglas McLedod and Benjamin Detenber examine viewer’s cognitive response to the framing effects of the protest paradigm. Results indicate that the level of status quo present impacts the viewer’s judgment.
In “The Manufacture of 'Public Opinion’ by Reporters: Informal Cues for Public Perceptions of Protest Groups” McLeod and Hertog (1992) examine news coverage of three anarchists marches from 1986-1988 in Minneapolis. Their findings reveal that mainstream media provide support to major societal institutions, whereas alternative media provide protection from isolation for the anarchists.
In “Social movement web use in theory and practice: a content analysis of US movement websites,” Stein (2009), drawing from alternative media studies, develops a typology of communication functions for social movements and conducts a random survey of US-based social movement organization websites. According to the survey results, most of US-based social movement organizations don’t utilize the internet to its full potential, and assumes several reasons why this might be the case: organizational objectives, organizational resources and resource sharing.
Connections to Subaltern Studies
Not much has been written about the related aims found in both alternative media discourse and subaltern studies discourse, yet a concern for disenfranchised and oppressed voices and communities can be found in both academic circles.
There are various definitions for "alternative media," as suggested above. John Downing, for example, defines "radical alternative media" as media "that express an alternative vision to hegemonic policies, priorities, and perspectives"  In his assessment of a variety of definitions for the term, Chris Atton notes repeatedly the importance of alternative media production originating from small-scale, counter-hegemonic groups and individuals.
Subaltern studies as well has a varied history in academic thought. Growing out of South Asian studies, subaltern studies draws on Antonio Gramsci's discussion of "subaltern" groups, that is, groups of people considered to be of inferior rank socially, economically, and politically. One of the most significant ideas found throughout subaltern studies is the question posed by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Can the subaltern speak?" which was posed in her seminal essay of the same name. In her piece, Spivak investigates whether the subaltern have a voice within hegemonic political discourses, and if so if their voices are being heard, allowing them to participate. This is important, as the subaltern's ability to participate in politics and other social and cultural practices is key in establishing—as well as challenging—their subaltern status. This particular body of scholarship is useful to the study and discussion of alternative media due to their shared preoccupation with the ability of disenfranchised peoples to participate and contribute to mainstream hegemonic discourses, especially in regards to ethnic and racial media in which these groups speak from a subaltern position.
This connection is strengthened in the work of alternative media scholar Clemencia Rodriguez. In her discussion of citizenship, Rodriguez comments that, "Citizens have to enact their citizenship on a day-to-day basis, through their participation in everyday political practices...As citizens actively participate in actions that reshape their own identities, the identities of others, and their social environments, they produce power." So it could be said that by subaltern groups creating alternative media, they are indeed expressing their citizenship, producing their power, and letting their voice be heard.
Forms of Media
The alternative press consists of printed publications that provide a different or dissident viewpoint than that provided by major mainstream and corporate newspapers, magazines, and other print media.
Factsheet Five publisher Mike Gunderloy described the alternative press as "sort of the 'grown-up' underground press. Whole Earth, the Boston Phoenix, and Mother Jones are the sorts of things that fall in this classification." In contrast, Gunderloy described the underground press as "the real thing, before it gets slick, co-opted, and profitable. The underground press comes out in small quantities, is often illegible, treads on the thin ice of unmentionable subjects, and never carries ads for designer jeans."
An example of alternative media is tactical media, which uses 'hit-and-run' tactics to bring attention to an emerging problem. Often tactical media attempts to expose large corporations that control sources of mainstream media.
One prominent NGO dedicated to tactical media practices and info-activism is the Tactical Technology Collective which assists human rights advocates in using technology. They have released several toolkits freely to the global community, including NGO In A Box South Asia, which assists in the setting up the framework of a self-sustaining NGO, Security-In-A-Box, a collection of software to keep data secure and safe for NGOs operating in potentially hostile political climates, and their new short form toolkit 10 Tactics, which "... provides original and artful ways for rights advocates to capture attention and communicate a cause".
Community, low-power or Pirate Radio
In many countries around the world, specific categories of radio stations are licensed to provided targeted broadcasts to specific communities, including community radio and low-power FM (LPFM). Such stations typically broadcast with less wattage than commercial or public/state-run broadcasters, and are often non-commercial and non-profit in nature. In the United States, a special class of stations known as low-power FM (LPFM) stations were first authorized by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January 2000. These stations are authorized to provide non-commercial, educational broadcasting and cannot operate with an effective radiated power of more than 100 watts. LPFM services were authorized to meet the increasing demand which existed in the United States for the creation of new, hyper-local radio outlets that would be grounded in their respective communities. The Prometheus Radio Project is a grassroots organization in the United States which advocates the establishment of LPFM stations and provides assistance to start-up LPFM stations.
In addition, non-commercial broadcasters in the United States are also afforded exclusive use of the FM spectrum between 88.1 and 91.9 megahertz. This portion of the dial includes some radio stations which could be classified as alternative media, including community-run and student-run radio stations, though there also exist many stations that are affiliated with large national broadcasters such as National Public Radio or large religious organizations.
Throughout the world, numerous other countries have also authorized community radio services, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Hungary, Ireland, Nepal, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, and many others. In many countries, including the United States, pirate radio stations also operate without any official license, in many cases providing programming to communities underserved by licensed broadcasters.
YouTube is considered to be not only a commercial enterprise, but also a platform designed to encourage cultural participation by ordinary citizens. Although YouTube aimed to be foremost a commercial enterprise, nevertheless, it has become a community media as one of the forms of alternative media. Scholars assume that YouTube’s commercial drive may have increased the probability of participation in online video culture for a broader spectrum of participants than before. This idea allows us to shift our concern away from the false contradiction between market-driven and non-market-driven culture towards the tensions between corporate logics and unruly and emergent traits of participatory culture, and the limits of YouTube model for cross-cultural diversity and global communication. In theory, YouTube stands as a site of cosmopolitan cultural citizenship. Uploading foreign soap opera episodes and dividing into several pieces to pass YouTube’s content limits, can be seen as acts of cultural citizenship similar to the media sharing practices of diverse communities identified by Cunningham and Nguyen (2000). However, people who have the highest chance of encountering other cultural citizens are those who have the access to various contents, information and platforms; this is commonly referred to as the ‘participation gap.’ The notion of participation gap makes both digital literacy and digital divide such important issues for cultural politics. Therefore, it’s still controversial if YouTube is just another conduit for strengthening cultural imperialism or one of alternative media.
Genres of Alternative and Activist New Media
Primarily concerned with the growing role of new media in alternative media projects, communication scholar Leah Lievrouw identifies 5 genres of contemporary new media based alternative and activist media: culture jamming, alternative computing, participatory journalism, mediated mobilization, and commons knowledge.
- Culture jamming generally attempts to critique popular culture such as entertainment, advertising, and art. It tends to comment on issues of corporate capitalism and consumerism, and seeks to provide political commentary. Characteristics of culture jamming texts include the appropriation or repurposing of images, video, sound, or text and that they are ironic or satirical in some sense. Today, culture jamming can come in the form of internet memes and guerrilla marketing.
- Alternative computing deals with the material infrastructure of informational and communications technologies. It seeks to critique and reconfigure systems with the intention of subverting or evading commercial and political restraints on open access to information and information technologies. Some examples of alternative computing are hacking, open source software or systems, and file sharing.
- Participatory journalism refers to web-based sources of critical or radical news either in the form of online news services or blogs. These alternative outlets of news often adopt the philosophies of citizen journalism and view themselves as providing an alternative to mainstream news and opinion. Participatory journalism projects may cover underreported groups and issues. Within this genre authors and readers of some of these alternative media projects have the ability contribute alike and therefore has the characteristic of being participatory or interactive. An example of participatory journalism is Indymedia
- Mobilization media relate to communication practices that mobilization or organization social movements, identity, or cultural projects through the use of new media tools and platforms such as Facebook or YouTube. Characteristics of this genre include the cultivation of interpersonal networks, collective action towards social change, and making information much readily accessible.
- Commons knowledge as a genre refers to projects that provide alternatives to the traditional top-down creation and dissemination of knowledge. It seeks out and encourages the participation of multiple users, fostering forms of collaborative knowledge production and folksonmoies. Wikipedia is an excellent example of this genre.
Thinking of current forms of alternative media in terms of genre not only allow us to identify the features and conventions of certain modes of communication, but also how “they allow people to express themselves appropriately, and to achieve their various purposes or intentions.” In other words, we can begin to understand how the creators and participants of alternative new media projects actively shape their communication practices.
Focusing on the “relation between art and mass media,”  the role of aesthetics in alternative media can be seen as an organizing principle, inherently political and associated with more experimental and innovative modes of production.
John Downing frames art “as a form of public, political communication,” and thus as a form of media, and traces various artistic movements and practices that have either functioned as political commentary or have enhanced the realm of the political. This body of literature also focuses on the balance between individualism and collectivity, in other words between the creator and the audience, within such practices, while simultaneously introducing or expanding upon the concept of audience and their potential participatory roles.
Within Alternative Media literature focusing aesthetics, culture jamming is framed as political action, formal strategy, and creative practice in the form of aesthetic intervention and symbolic discourse. According to Åsa Wettergren, this practice focuses on “mass media as an arena for political struggle,” which she traces back to the Situationist International collective's practice of détournement to undermine the “spectacle” of daily life. Wettergren also raises issues of access and reach by focusing on the practice's reliance on cultural and symbolic capital by way of cultural intermediaries.
Cultural Studies and Stlye
The aesthetic with regards to Alternative Media also engages cultural studies literature, specifically the importance of style related to studies of subcultures. For example, focusing on counter-hegemonic cultural flows, Dick Hebdige defines subcultures as “mechanism of semantic disorder,” in which aesthetics and symbols are re-appropriated and given new meaning. This body of literature also mirrors the role of transience and cooptation inherent within alternative media production.
Focusing on participatory genres of art in Defining Participation: An Interdisciplinary Overview, Nico Carpentiere focuses on aesthetically experimental avant-garde movements and their emphasis on the role of the audience and participation within their conception. Some of these artistic movements include Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Situationism, Pop art, Neo-concretism, and the Theatre of the Oppressed.
In his work on the politics of aesthetics, Jacques Rancière emphasizes “the distribution of the sensible,” as defining what can be perceived through the senses. According to Rancière, it follows that aesthetics are “the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience,” the affordances of the individual and the collective, as well as forming that basis of politics as experience. Relating this to alternative media affords an indisputable role for aesthetics as far as expanding the realm of the political, as well as the politics and relations of power inherent within any production and its perception.
Like many makers of alternative media, scholar Crispin Sartwell identifies politics as an aesthetic environment. He argues that within such an environment “Political systems are no more centrally textual than they are centrally systems of imagery, architecture, music, styles of embodiment and movement, clothing and fibers, furnishings, and graphic arts”  As such, these artpolitical systems not only use aesthetics as a tool to gain power, but are also constituted via aesthetic forms within all media. Within alternative media, aesthetics are similarly recognized as a political force and often used as a tool to subvert hegemonic power structures that are perpetuated through visual rhetoric and design. Thus, it is not uncommon for alternative media to seek new artistic, non-traditional, or avant-garde means to represent its content. In this case, the use of aesthetics allows alternative media to address what might seem to be otherwise banal content in a manner which re-aligns, re-negotiates, or exposes the politics at work within it.
Racial and Ethnic Media
Scholars have traditionally regarded ethnic media as alternative media however some scholars and practitioners have challenged this categorization. Ethnic media outlets, including ethnic newspapers, radio stations and television networks, typically target specific ethnic and racial groups instead of the general population, such as recent immigrant audience groups. In many cases, ethnic media are regarded as media that are entirely created by and for ethnic groups within their respective host countries with content in their native languages. However many ethnic media outlets are actually operated by transnational organizations or by mainstream corporations. For example, NBC Universal owns Univision, a Spanish language television network for Latinos in the United States. Additionally some ethnic media outlets obtain their content and programming from mainstream networks in sending countries. For example, Univison derives much of its popular telenovela programming from Televisa, the dominant television network in Mexico. Some argue that despite these factors, ethnic media still arguably fulfills a role as an ethnic/racial representative for their respective communities within the larger media landscape.
There remain other issues and controversies surrounding ethnic media as alternative media. While ethnic media might provide a useful category of analysis, it can sometimes, as Shi points out, run the risk of homogenizing all members of a certain given ethnic group into a single overarching descriptive category. Power relations, differences in political views, questions of gender, inter-racial and inter-ethnic differences, and many other key issues can become erased and ignored. For example, news outlets directed towards African-American audiences in the United States contain divergent political agendas and ideologies. Some publishers, such as the California Eagle under the leadership of Charlotta Bass displayed a much more explicitly progressive position than other popular newspapers such as the Chicago Defender. Large ethnic media organizations can also misrepresent or not fully represent members of its ethnic or racial group. For example, in a study Dominican and Puerto Rican youth expressed a desire to see more representation of their own people on networks like Univision, which typically use Mexican and Cuban figures.
While ethnic media may position itself as counter to the dominant racial hegemony of the nation-state it operates in, ethnic media can still maintain hegemonic attitudes and positions in its own content and organization. In an attempt to be seen as legitimate sources of information, ethnic media may also adopt the dominant aesthetic conventions of mainstream media. For example, the website of Al Jazeera America is similarly laid out compared to other mainstream news sites. Additionally, professionals who own and operate ethnic media outlets often come from significantly different backgrounds than their intended audience. America Rodriguez writes in Making Latino News that “Latino journalism is produced by Latino journalists and Latino marketers, Latinos whose cultural and material capital set them apart from much of their intended audience, replicating the social distance that exists between most general market journalists and their audiences.”
A 2005 US survey by New California Media found that 13% of the US adult population consumes ethnic media. A total of 45% of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian American, Native American and Arab Americans preferred their targeted ethnic media over mainstream media, saying that they accessed ethnic media frequently. The survey attributes much of this trend to the limited reach of newspapers to minority populations by traditional media. Perhaps more strikingly, the study found that 90 percent of ethnic populations consumes ethnic media regularly.
In 2011 the Pew Research center found that African American media not only played a valuable role for African Americans, it also faces challenges present with mainstream media. The National Newspaper Associations lists over 200 newspapers owned by blacks. While circulation of the newspapers is significantly less than mainstream newspapers, Elinor Tatum, editor in chief for the New York Times said, “Our circulation may not be the strongest, but people are reading us, and they care what we say”. African American ethnic media is also represented in wire services, magazines, radio, and online. Black newspaper publisher Danny Bakewell Sr. said, “People buy black newspapers for a very simple reason: We want to see ourselves … In terms of getting a perspective of what’s happening in the world and the epic value of the black press… We’re making sure we’re not silent. “
Ethnic media that are clearly alternative media, in that it meets many of the criteria stated above, do exist. For example, the Zapatista movement of Southern Mexico, which represents mostly peasant indigenous people, produced highly sophisticated videos. These videos were distributed though conventional means but had political views outside the mainstream. Ethnic media as a category of alternative media remains controversial and thus inquiry into the intellectual framework takes into account the issues raised by many scholars and practitioners.
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Although most of the attention to alternative media has focused on the politics of production and categorization of different kinds of media, there has been growing interest in the audiences of alternative media. Much of this interest originally stemmed from Chris Atton's description of the blurred line between audience and producer, which stood as a tactic for production in the "ghetto sphere." Essentially, media resources have become monopolized by corporate conglomerates, which leaves the public sphere in a permanent "ghetto" condition. In order to overcome such problems, Atton noted that producers of alternative media can rely on the audience to generate content, which comes at little or no cost. Although Atton's description of the audience in this context was a discussion about production, it did shift more attention to the people who read and use alternative media. In 2007, Jennifer Rauch  claimed that the interpretive strategies utilized by the audience can determine if a text is alternative or not. In 2009, Michael Boyle and Mike Schmierbach  demonstrated how audiences of alternative media are more likely to be more frequently engaged in protest actions than audiences of mainstream news media. Later, Joshua Atkinson  explored the performances of alternative media audiences, and how the use of alternative media shaped those performances. Essentially, Atkinson claims that the nature of the audiences use of alternative media (participatory v. passive), as well as their worldview, often shape the performances of resistance against dominant power structures in society.
A very interesting, though underexplored question is the issue of alternative and mainstream spaces is the idea of crossovers. While at one point scholars agreed that alternative and mainstream spaces were twains that would never meet, later scholarship is questioning the basis of such “binary oppositions” and examining, instead, the ways alternative media borrows and re-works the norms of mainstream media. Alternative media processes and products have been described as inhabiting or being “inseparable” from an “alternative or plebian public sphere” (Atton, 1999, pp. 54, 71; 2002, pp. 35, 50; Habermas, 1989, p. xviii; 1992, p. 430) . Within this context, the journalistic practices carried out within alternative media have been described, in a historical context, as ‘‘insurgent journalism’’ (Curran and Seaton, 2003, p. 16); and, in a more contemporary context, as ‘‘counter-hegemonic journalism’’ (Harcup, 2003, p. 372).
Other questions of interest include: How exactly these practices are counter hegemonic? In the process of being open to all, of being citizen led, do alternative media have different editorial processes?
While it’s clear that the editing principles is the mains area where immediate differences between mainstream and alternative spaces can be quantified, qualitative process mapping with alternative media stations like the CGNET Swara, have shown how the prior work experiences of the founder and chief motivational figure, a sort of editor in chief, sets the tone for the editorial principles. Shubhranshu Choudhary, the founder of CGNET Swara, has a rich and varied experience in media, having worked with the BBC and The Guardian South Asia Bureau. The editorial process of CGNET Swara is a strong one. All the stories sent in are fact checked. “We have our personnel in the field who we can call and check if all the facts stated in the story are true,” said one of the moderators, based in the Bhopal office. “We know people don’t lie but sometimes they may find it hard to distinguish the difference between a personal problem and a new piece about an issue that affects a lot of people at once.”
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- Atton, Chris. (2002). Alternative Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
- Downing, John. (2001). Radical Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
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