Radical alternative journalism ► Downing Radical media - alternative vision to hegemonic policies, priorities and perspectives ► Radical media is needed because of the blockages of public expression. Where do the blockages come from? Powerful interests within the dynamic of the capitalist economy; Governmental secrecy; Institutionalised racist and patriarchal codes; Concentration of ownership and control of media; Commodification of culture; Lack of democracy within media organisations; Other hegemonic codes that appear natural and sensible.
► Chris Atton Alternative journalism – a radical challenge to the institutionalised practices of the mainstream media ► Typology of alternative AND radical media: Content (politically radical, socially/ culturally radical); news values; Form – graphics, visual language; varieties of presentation and binding; aesthetics; Reprographic innovations/ adaptations – use of mimeographs, desk-top publishing, offset litho, photocopiers; ‘Distributive use’ – alternative sites for distribution, clandestine/ invisible distribution networks, anti-copyright; Transformed social relations, roles and responsibilities – reader- writers, collective organisation, de-professionalisation of journalism, publishing; Transformed communication processes – horizontal linkages, networks.
► Rodriguez Conceptualised such media as “citizens’ media” i.e. A philosophy and set of practices embedded within the everyday lives of citizens, and media content that is both driven and produced by those people. (But, don’t we need some skilled media practitioners to mediate, set agendas, lead?)
► Tanni Haas Alternative media as agents of societal and media democratisation “Alternative media could be defined as media devoted to providing representations of issues and events which oppose those offered in the mainstream media and to advocating social and political reform.” Replaces an ideology of ‘objectivity’ with overt advocacy and oppositional practices: Emphasise first person, eyewitness accounts by participants; Reworking of the populist approaches of tabloid newspapers to recover a ‘radical popular’ style of reporting; Collective and anti-hierarchical forms of organisation which eschew demarcation and specialisation.
Economics and organisation ► Structural imperatives of alternative journalism – at odds with the market-driven mass media; ► Opposed to the hierarchical, elite-centred notions of journalism as a business; ► Only through more egalitarian, inclusive media organisations that it is possible to think about a socially responsible journalism.
Comparison with public journalism ► Radical alternative journalism goes beyond ‘reformist’ public journalism. ► Public journalism works in the market and within long-standing organisational, institutional and professional structures – part of mainstream journalism and operates in a similar way. ► Steve Davis Public journalism’s attempts at ‘community outreach’ and ‘reader responsiveness’ are morally dubious (conflates civic responsibility with PR and the desire to increase circulation and sales) Perhaps we should celebrate the idea that these objectives can be achieved simultaneously?
► Howley Some correspondence between the aims of street newspapers (e.g. The Big Issue) and public journalism: Both began in the 1990s; Both sought to produce journalism that was more democratically responsive and meaningful to its audience in terms of forms and practices; Both report on issues from the perspectives of citizens rather than politicians, experts and other elite actors; Both suggested fundamental realignment of writer and reader, a re-coupling of ‘community’ within which practitioners and audiences might engage
► Alternative journalism (more broadly) shares following characteristics with public journalism: Both offer citizens opportunities to articulate and debate their opinions on issues, elaborating on what citizens can do to address those issues; Both organise sites for citizen deliberation and action such as roundtables, community forums and local civic organisations; Both follow up on citizen initiatives through ongoing and sustained coverage.
► But: Public journalism stops short of explicit advocacy; Refrains from promoting any specific outcomes (political neutrality) Public journalism distinguishes between “doing journalism” and “doing politics”. Does this mean they are thus “incapable of promoting social change”? Glasser – makes it difficult for journalists to join forces with any part of the community associated with political or partisan interests. Partnerships with politically benign organisations (NGOs, universities, civic groups).
► What if public journalists, like alternative journalists, partnered with political parties, trade unions, professional associations, local reform movements and other special interest groups? ► Fear of advocacy: Public journos limit themselves to encouraging citizens to participate in voluntary community interventions. Could this produce a false sense of participatory politics which serves entrenched elite interests or creates increased cynicism toward government and politics? Does public journalism’s location within the market prevents it from mounting a challenge to the deep structural, institutionalised and professionalised power relations of the mass media?
Who does the journalism? ► All alternative journalism is interested in asking who get to be – or even deserves to be – a journalist and what such a role should entail: Close and non-hierarchical relationship between reader and content; Close relationship between reader and writer; Sometimes the two become fused - results in hybrid forms such as the activist-journalist and the native reporter (distinctions between actors in social movements and journalists erode).
► Interested, ‘partial’ members of a community (community of interest or geographical) as journalists, as recorders of their own reality. ► Is ‘citizens’/participatory’ journalism a variant of this? ► Open publishing software. Enables contributors to post their own writing directly.
Cultural empowerment ► Alternative journalism as a process of cultural empowerment – content production is not necessarily the prime purpose. ► What may be as (or more) important are the ways in which community media facilitate the process of community organisation: ‘Produce and maintain the culture of a community’. Creators and maintainers of alternative public spheres.
Alternative epistemology of news production: ► ‘Ordinary people’ witness political events in which they play an active, dissenting role. ► These same people present their witnessing as native reporters working within alternative media. ► Foregrounds social construction of ‘facts’ and knowledge and develops critical thinking and reflexivity (for example, critical of rote learning of news values). ► Alternative values and frameworks underlie their news coverage.
Personal empowerment? ► MacPherson: Developmental power is the opportunity for members of the public to “use and develop their capacities”. ► Represents the positive possibilities for human achievement inherent in cooperative social life, which, up to the present, the construction of economic and political life most often sidelines. ► But, the public’s ability to activate them is widely shackled (malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, lack of access to the means of production, lack of protection from arbitrary attack on one’s body or one’s liberty).
► Extractive power is the opposite of developmental power = power of capital over labour and generally the ability to impose your agenda on other people. ► MacPherson: democracy should be more than a set of agreed procedural rules of debate and negotiation – it should entail a cultural, political and economic setting in which developmental power flourishes. ► Developmental power builds on the notions of counter-hegemony and alternative public spheres.
► Radical alternative media as developmental power agents: Expand the range of information, reflection and exchange from the often narrow hegemonic limits of mainstream media discourse; Usually try to be more responsive to voices and aspirations of the excluded and have a close relationship with an ongoing social movement and thus fairly spontaneously express views and opinions extruded from mainstream media; Don’t need to censor themselves; Are themselves organised along more democratic lines; Fulfil the innovative role that Raymond Williams ascribed to what he termed “formations; those effective movements and tendencies, in intellectual and artistic life, which have significant and sometimes decisive influence on the active development of a culture (and which have variable and often oblique relation to formal institutions)”.
Emotion and imagination ► Raymond Williams alludes to the centrality of emotion and imagination in radical media (the peril of seeing their role as informative in a purely rational sense). ► A democratic culture cannot subsist on rational argument alone… a recognition of the role of radical art and aesthetics. ► In contrast to the Habermasian ideal of rational-critical discourse, alternative media allow for a multitude of discourse forms “whose communicative trust depends not on closely argued logic but on their aesthetically conceived and concentrated force” (Downing).
Social movements ► Indymedia – close symbiotic relationship to social movements. ► Manifests itself in their organisational structure, news coverage, and the relations between journalists and audiences. ► “Self-managed, non-hierarchical, collectivist- democratic” form of organisation. ► Produced by the same people whose concerns it represents, from a position of engagement and direct participation.
► Include people usually excluded from coverage – feature them in the news as central actors, or by producing content relevant to their everyday lives. ► Provide audiences with mobilising information, directed at external political activism and at participation in news production. ► Information for action, mobilised citizenry, facilitators of social communication. ► In contrast to mainstream media’s liberal democratic ideal of the “informed” citizenry.
Link to radical democracy ► Alternative media not about ability to impact upon governmental institutions – more about altering individual and group self-perception, challenge oppressing social relations, and thereby enhance participants’ own access to power. ► But Atton and others disagree – they define the democratic significance of alternative media in terms of their ability to effect large-scale social and political reform.
Alternative public sphere or sphere of multiple alternative publics? ► Public sphere as an ensemble of discursive spaces between civil society and the state where ordinary citizens – either on their own or as representatives of larger social groupings - can debate public issues of concern to them. ► Subaltern counter-publics – indicates that alternative media represent parallel and at times overlapping discursive spaces where participants can debate public issues of particular concern to them.
► Also, external reach – Keane’s three part typology of “micro” (local), “meso” (regional/ national) and “macro” (global) public spheres: Micro: Lack of access to people residing outside the immediate community – lack of ties to broader spheres of public debate Macro: e.g. Indymedia. Geographically dispersed participants given opportunity to debate issues and events of common concern – collaboration on global activist initiatives Meso: Producing programming on a national scale to local radio stations, newspapers
A constructive approach to citizen participation… ► Advocate measures that correspond to the nature of particular issues under investigation. ► i.e. News organisations should carefully consider whether: Issues can be adequately addressed through voluntary community intervention or whether they require intervention of more deep-seated, systemic character; Issues can be adequately addressed through local intervention (whether citizen-based or systemic) or whether they require intervention of regional, provincial, national or even international scope.
The ethics of advocacy journalism ► Sue Careless, The Interim: An advocate speaks or pleads on behalf of another, giving the other a face and a voice. Advocacy journals have a declared bias, a publicly acknowledged editorial point of view They are upfront about their editorial position even on their masthead. Mainstream media have biases which are often hidden or implicit – because their editorial viewpoint supposedly reflects what the majority values, no one thinks much about it.
► But, mainstream media can also be out of step with the majority opinion ► “When the mainstream media ignores, trivializes or seriously distorts your cause or issue, then your cause or community needs its own media.” ► But, good advocacy journalism vs. bad.
Rules for advocacy journalism ► Is being an advocate journalist the same as being an activist? ► “There are lines which should never be crossed by a professional journalist. If you only spout slogans and clichés, and rant and rave, you are only a polemicist, you won't educate or persuade anyone, and those "on side" will find you boring and repetitious.” ► Can a journalist have a declared bias and still practice journalism in a professional manner? ► Yes - you may be seen as even more credible if your perspective is acknowledged up front.
► A journalist writing for the advocacy press should practice the same skills as any journalist - don't fabricate or falsify. ► Don't fudge or suppress vital facts or present half-truths ► Fairness and thoroughness. Verify your facts and quotes. Use multiple sources and try to cite neutral sources for statistics. ► A good journalist must argue against his/her own convictions. You will be far more credible if you write with a critical edge.
► "Balanced" coverage: ► Advocacy journalism does not generally give equal time to opponents, but neither does the mainstream press. ► In opinion writing, as in debate, you must be able to answer your opponent's best arguments. ► Does your opposition, moreover, have some valid criticism you should hear? ► Advocacy journalists should also cover stories that may be unflattering to their own cause or community.
Why we need advocacy media? ► Can you trust media with a vested interest? ► No, but no single source should ever be trusted completely. Vested interests are going to work harder at unearthing evidence for their cause or constituency for which the mass media wouldn't bother digging. ► Society is made up of various communities of interest like small, overlapping circles. Mass media aims at the whole pool and barely skims the surface. The alternative media, which aims at a smaller circle, a smaller audience, can dive deeper.