Tony HarcupAlternative Media & Democracy Strathclyde University, Michael Higgins, seminar. Sheffield University 2008, April 30

Journalism: Principles and Practices

The Ethical Journalist

‘What is News?’ – more used article in Journalism Studies

would democracy be dead wout alternative media?

base on views of people working in alternative media

started working on an alternative newspaper

mid 1970s – dropped out of uni – to alt newspaper in leeds - opportunity to get paid for this work  -

moved into mainstream journalism

then to uni

Christ atton – pioneered work ‘alternative media’

Alternative media plays key role in providing form of democratic comm.

Definition of alternative media (Coyer 2007) -    ‘participatory’ o    goes beyond UGC

goes beyond that which sees itself as oppositional

but voice of alienated

limits? -    graffiti as alt media

my focus on journalistic type of alt media

sample of 22 journos, over 40 types of mainstream media -    each moved from alt to mainstream

open definition

morning star, spare rib, outright, inc, oz, -

publications of campaign – eg troops out,

non-aligned left wing: red pepper, the leveller

also websites, cable tv stations and fanzines

football fanzine – oppositional voice

asked how define?

Answers: -    trad of publications -    never even thought of – small scale, personal interest, desire to share a point of view, minimal commercial aspiration -    used to be what isn’t in WH Smith, but now collapsed due to internet, difference between taking advertising or not -    any pubn different from mainstream views of soc, shaped by opinion leaders -    different from dominant -    different angle, not sexy -    collective  endeavour o    working in alt way -    challenge norms -    seeks to subvert -    ownership – imp to get info out, not to get paid for it -    serve fringe political or enviro int groups -    similar ideas to academics, though not informed by -    stance of outsider, beyond usual political discourse o    can it include right wing, religious? •    some say it is left •    leaning by definition -    some start as alt, eg. Time Out or New Statesman o    listings invented by alt press

challenge status quo

what’s it all for?

Role of alt media? -    democracy dead wout them -    freedom to act irresponsibly is imp -    not bound by commercial pressures

eg. campaign for abolition of slavery. Where did this emerge? -    Sheffield Register, 1787

Colonel B – give evidence to prosecute journos -    The Leveller published this, defy Official Secrets Act; plays a democratic role

Spare Rib, fem mag – contraception, weight, -  a lot now mainstream, but dismissed as wacky at the time

Tony Benn – how ideas change

Alt Public sphere

‘service to a community that would never be financially viable’

Dennis McQuail ‘democratic participant media’ – ‘looks after t needs of citizens’

Intro of citizens – different relationship – people addresses as citz not consumers

Being allowed to participate

a) Express oppositions vertically – speak truth to power -    hold people in power to account

b) build support laterally

vertical and lateral purposes involved

John Downing -    not just opposing mainstream -    not binary -    but hybrids

Clemencia Rodriquez -    not happy that completely different -    she uses ‘citizens media’ -    not just non-mainstream, but active citizenship -    transformative processs -    ‘articulates metaphoric transformation …into active citizens’ -    ‘concept accounts for processes of empowerment that result when ….reclaim own media’ -    ‘exercise own agency’ -    process of empowerment

if so, could be called citizen journalism -    but been hijacked by something else: user generated content

blogging - some recognized as journalism, some not

mere fact that someone is writing something and publishing does not make it journalism -    ME: what does?

But alt media does -    about empowering and engaging citz

Paul Manning ‘news and news sources’ -    health of public sphere depends on success of diverse groups getting views across in mainstream media -    least powerful groups face structural obstacles -    importance of alternative benchmarks o    wout how can we scrutinize mainstream?

regional news – focus on danger of social life

Questions & Answers

Jen, Gla: -    US idea of ‘public journalism’ vs ‘citz journ’ o    Public agendas: volunteering, debate, etc -    Local papers – ‘we’re voice of XXXX’

Tony -    evening papers have sense of readers, rather than serving civic function -    not conflict with commercial interest -    damp council houses – we’d run the story, but local papers would not because it’s depressing -    local papers had clearly defined institutional sources, we didn’t

Phil: alternative vs activist?

Michael: trust – novelty not alternative media -    does diversification of alternative media limit capability to establish trust

Tony: where do people go online for news? Overwhelmingly BBC, guardian, times, etc -    why? Trust o    ME: presumption of covering general news – ie. It has a network of journalists and a filter process for this -    Bigger danger for alternative media is just to be heard at all -

Indymedia and indymedia-watch.

Can alternative media journos be more ethical?

Tony: yes, but can be irresponsible.


ME: are citizen journalists alternative media?

ME: different demographic of alt media – is it sole/main job?

ME: how qualify whether does challenge status quo?

ME: how does alt media vary across world? Is it culturally specific? Going to jail not equally as attractive outside uk

ME: difference between a rag that is oppositional to a particular brand as opposed to a set of political ideas?

ME: Whose mainstream are we alternative to?

ME: who’s doing hijacking of citz journ?

ME: could you envisage a portal to alternative media?

ME: Is alternative media visible in non-democratic states?