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.
“Ethnicity,” “race” and “journalism” are each problematized in this article on the relationship among them. They operate in diverse discourses relating to particularity and difference, and are used as both “analytical and folk concepts.” As race and ethnicity have different trajectories, racism has taken different forms: “scientific,” “institutional,” and “cultural” or “new racism.” While Northern/Western scholarship acknowledges the foundations of race and ethnicity with modernity, arising with 15th-century European colonization, they are nevertheless understood as “aberrations” in Western journalism—itself a practice of modernity. But critical Southern scholarship has challenged the hegemonic narrative of modernity, pointing to its “darker side,” and thus its production of the coloniality of knowledge, power, and being worldwide. It explains European colonization as the source of “modernity,” nascent capitalism, and the control of labor—including its gendered racialization. This accounts for the dominance of both the content and the perspective of European research. Sports and crime journalism are the most popular news forms which sustain the mythic concepts of racial superiority and inferiority, expressed through scientific racism. But journalism on transnationalism has led critical theorists to question its underpinning of institutional, cultural, and new racism, and increasingly, marginalized subaltern groups are producing their own media to challenge the hegemonic media framings of them. The “Southern” theoretical approach poses a fundamental challenge to contemporary, hegemonic, and gendered understandings of journalism, race, and ethnicity.
The emergence of citizen journalism has prompted the journalism field and scholars to readdress what constitutes journalism and who is a journalist. Citizen journalists have disrupted news-media ecosystems by challenging the veracity and representativeness of information flowing from mainstream news-media newsrooms. However, the controversy related to the desired level of citizen involvement in the news process is a historical debate that began before the citizen-journalism phenomenon. As early as the 1920s, journalist and political commentator Walter Lippman and American philosopher John Dewey debated the role of journalism in democracy, including the extent that the public should participate in the news-gathering and production processes. This questioning of citizen involvement in news reemerged as an issue with the citizen journalism phenomenon around the late 1990s. People with no news-media organizational ties have taken advantage of the convenience and low cost of social computing technologies by publishing their own stories and content. These people are referred to as citizen journalists. Scholars have assessed the quality and credibility of citizen-journalism content, finding that citizen journalists have performed well on several standards of traditional news-content quality. Levels of quality differ dependent upon citizen journalists’ goals and motivations, such as serving the public interest, increasing self-status, or expressing their creative selves. As it is an emerging area of study, unarticulated theoretical boundaries of citizen journalism exist. Citizen-journalism publications emphasize community over conflict, advocacy over objectivity, and interpretation over fact-based reporting. In general, citizen journalists have historically acted when existing news-media journalists were not fully meeting their community’s informational needs. Scholars, however, vary in how they label citizen journalists and how they conceptually and empirically define citizen journalism. For example, researchers have shifted their definitional focus on citizen journalists from one of active agents of democratic change to people who create a piece of news content. The mapping of the citizen-journalism literature revealed four types of citizen journalists based on their levels of editorial control and contribution type: (1) participatory, (2) para, (3) news-media watchdog, and (4) community. Taken together, these concepts describe the breadth of citizen-journalist types. For those of us interested in journalism studies, a more targeted approach in the field of citizen journalism can help us build community around scholarship, understand citizen journalists’ contributions to society and practice, and create a more a stable foundation of knowledge concerning people who create and comment on news content.