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 are biased in the selection and framing of news and information. While sources of alternative media can also be biased (sometimes proudly so), proponents claim that the bias is significantly different than that of the mainstream media because they have a different set of values, objectives, and frameworks. Hence these media provide an "alternative" viewpoint, different information and interpretations of the world that cannot be found in the mainstream.
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 and dissident media, 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.
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".
Propaganda model 
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. 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.
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.
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".
Avant-garde media 
The category of avant-garde media emphasizes the experimental and innovative aspect of a certain kind of alternative media that stands out for its aesthetic qualities and that is usually produced by artists.
Examples of avant-garde media can be found in the works of the Situationist International, Dadaism, Surrealism, Punk literature, Epic Theatre, Theatre of the Oppressed, Stencil graffiti. Groups like the Situationist International bring to the table questions of how alternative media can be conceptualized as a formal strategy. While the group was largely composed of students, professors, intellectuals, etc., the techniques they choose to use(such as détournement ) address the question of alternative media as an aesthetic practice.
Community, low-power and 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.
Ethnic and racial media 
Ethnic media and racial media outlets, including ethnic newspapers, radio stations and television programs, typically target specific ethnic and racial groups instead of the general population, such as immigrant audience groups. In many cases, ethnic media are regarded as media which are entirely created by and for ethnic groups within their respective host countries, with content in their native languages, though many ethnic media outlets are in fact operated by transnational organizations or even by mainstream corporations, while others are commercial operations, even if they still arguably fulfill a role as an ethnic/racial representative for their respective communities within the larger media landscape.
A study in 2006 said that an individual or a group of individuals who are from ethnic backgrounds themselves usually establish ethnic media. These organizations "offer an alternative view to the news and commentaries in the mainstream media." The article also said, "They contribute to a sense of community identity for the people that they serve by meeting the specific information needs of the community."
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. When one uses such categories, power relations, differences in political views, questions of gender, and many other key issues might become erased. For example, take the rise of the African American press in the United States. 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.
When using this term, it is useful to think about historical context, internal composition of the group, and possible political or cultural differences between members of the group.
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.
See also 
- Atton, Chris. (2002). Alternative Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
- Downing, John. (2001). Radical Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
- Rodriquez, C. (2001). Fissures in the Mediascape. Cresskill, NJ:Hampton Press. Pg. 3.
- Albert, Michael. "What Makes Alternative Media Alternative". ZMagazine. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
- Gross, Larry. (2003). "The Gay Global Village in Cyberspace." In N. Couldry & J. Curran (Eds.). Contesting Media Power. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefiled, pp. 259-272).
- Owens, L., & Palmer, K. (2003). "Making the News: Anarchist Counter-Public Relations on the World Wide Web." In Critical Studies in Media Communication. pp. 335-361
- Luders, M. (2008). Conceptualizing personal media. New Media & Society, (10): 683.
- Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Grant, I., & Kelly, K. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge, 2003.
- Peter R. Mitchell, John Schoeffel (2002). "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky". NicholasJohnson.org. The New Press. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- McChesney, Robert W. (2008), Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media, New York, New York, United States: The New Press, p. 301, ISBN 978-1-59558-413-7
- Ben Bagdikian. "The New Media Monopoly". Ben Bagdikian Blog. Ben Bagdikian. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- Michael Albert (October 2007). "What Makes Alternative Media Alternative?". Z Magazine. ZMagazine. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- Gunderloy, Mike (August 1991), "Glossary", Factsheet Five (Rensselaer, NY: Pretzel Press) (44): 86, ISSN 08906823, retrieved 2007-11-05
- "10 tactics for turning information into action". Tactical Technology Collective. Tactical Technology Collectiv. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Low Power FM Broadcast Radio Stations (LPFM)". FCC Encyclopedia. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- Shi, Yu (2009), "Re-Evaluating the 'Alternative' Role of Ethnic Media in the US: The Case of Chinese-Language Press and Working-Class Women Readers", Media, Culture and Society (New York, New York, United States: Sage Publications): 597–616
- Kessler, Lauren (1984), The Dissident Press: Alternative Journalism in American History, New York, New York, United States: Sage Commtext Series, pp. 21–47, ISBN 0-8039-2087-3
- Ojo, Tokunbo (2006). "Ethnic print media in the multicultural nation of Canada". Sage Publications 7 (3): 343–361.
- Rauch, Jennifer (2007), "Activists as Interpretive Communities: Rituals of Consumption and Interaction in an Alternative Media Audience", Media, Culture, & Society: 994–1013
- Boyle, Michael & Schmierbach, Mike (2009), "Media Use and Protest: The Role of Mainstream and Alternative Media Use in Predicting Traditional and Protest Participation", Communication Quarterly: 1–17
- Atkinson, Joshua (2010), Alternative Media and Politics of Resistance: A Communication Perspective, New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4331-0517-3