- Tony HarcupTony HarcupDepartment of Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield
As a phrase, “alternative journalism” may be thought of as a 21st century phenomenon, but as a set of practices it is arguably as old as journalism itself. The label is generally applied to more journalistic elements of alternative forms of media that exist outside dominant commercial or state-controlled media industries, and what is thought of as alternative journalism tends to differ over time and space. Alternative journalism might refer to the output of a lone blogger or fanzine creator, a small collectively-run publication or website, a relatively large and slick multimedia news operation, or a wide range of other formats, platforms, and practices. While alternative media may be multivarious in form, content, and ethos—ranging from graffiti to experimental movie-making—the scope of alternative journalism is more narrowly concerned with reporting and/or commenting on factual and topical events or current affairs. While some such journalism may be intended merely to fill in gaps left by the mainstream, and some practitioners may employ a hybrid mixture of alternative and mainstream approaches and techniques, others are concerned with playing a more consciously counter-hegemonic role within the public sphere. This implies, and may state explicitly, that its adherents eschew many of the avowed practices of mainstream journalism, such as balance and objectivity, in favor of a more “committed” approach. To this end, practitioners are often concerned with redressing and countering what they see as the failures of mainstream media to adequately report certain issues, perspectives, or communities. As a result, alternative journalism may involve working to a different sense of news values; covering different stories and offering alternative analyses; giving access to and foregrounding different sets of news actors and sources; adopting a more participatory approach that may blur distinctions between journalist, source, and audience; operating within an alternative ethical framework that is more concerned with facilitating active citizenship than with following industry norms or regulatory guidelines; and even, in a sense, setting itself up as a form of watchdog on the shortcomings of mainstream forms of journalism.
Academic research into alternative journalism is a relatively young discipline and has to date tended to be dominated by scholars from—and studies of activity within—North America, Western Europe, and Australasia. However, recent years have seen a notable increase in the number of researchers and studies focusing on the output—journalistic and otherwise—of “citizens’ media” from elsewhere. Whereas some researchers and commentators approach alternative journalism as being entirely separate from the mainstream, others have noted more of a “continuum” of practices and content. To date there have been relatively few studies of the audience for alternative journalism. Scholarship in the field of alternative journalism has traditionally focused on forms associated with the political left in the broadest sense of that term (including media informed by feminism, peace journalism, environmentalism and anti-racism), but in the future researchers may well be paying increasing attention to the way so-called “alt-right” media have utilized rhetoric previously associated with left–liberal alternative media to advance far-right arguments.