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Alternative journalism is a fluid concept, often attributed to media practices unified only by their differing from mainstream journalism. Recent scholarship focuses on practices that challenge the communicator/audience divide, including the range of voices presented, the privileging of marginalized news sources over traditional elites, a conscious identification with the audience being served, and a conception of journalism that promotes social action (Atton 2002; Downing 2001).
Dissidents have long contested the terrain of mass communications, from the underground printing presses used in eighteenth-century France to the anonymizers and remote hosting sites bloggers use to evade censors. Throughout the nineteenth century, newspapers were central to Chartists’ and socialists’ efforts to build an oppositional working-class culture and campaign for their demands. Social media were widely credited with facilitating the Arab Spring that challenged regimes across the Middle East.
Alternative journalism embraces advocacy, and does not so much serve its audience as constitute a process of cultural empowerment, creating and maintaining an alternative public sphere that enables diverse publics to speak in their own voice (Rodríguez 2001). Alternative journalism thus challenges the professionalization of journalism. The labor press combined staff reports with articles written by readers, often describing their own working conditions and local struggles. These newspapers were often published by cooperatives that raised the necessary funds, elected editors, and convened regular meetings at which editors reported to their readers.
Today alternative journalists work in every medium, from clandestinely circulated news bulletins to the Free Speech Television network. Although the so-called marketplace of ideas remains relentlessly inhospitable to alternative journalism, media activists continue to seize on new technologies and underserved audiences in their quest to forge a new kind of media practice.
- Atton, C. (2002). Alternative media. London: Sage.
- Downing, J. (2001). Radical media: Rebellious communication and social movements. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Rodríguez, C. (2001). Fissures in the media-scape: An international study of citizens’ media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.