In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alternative Journalism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Directories
  • Journals
  • Patterns of Coverage

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Communication Alternative Journalism
Jon Bekken
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0167


What constitutes alternative journalism? In the literature the term encompasses a wide range of practices, from a simple description of the marginal (ethnic minorities, amateur publications, dissidents, etc.) to a focus on the type of information presented or the practice of a politically engaged or oppositional journalism. Alternative journalism can refer to an oppositional stance, to a more participatory mode of journalistic practice, to the subject matter being covered, or to the position of its producers outside of dominant media channels (whether commercial or state-sponsored). Its definition is complicated by changing political circumstances and by developments within specific media outlets themselves. Members of the US-based Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, for example, were once embedded within a broader countercultural and dissident movement. Today, some retain significant vestiges of that oppositional stance, while others are more focused on arts and entertainment. Media outlets once solidly oppositional can be co-opted into the mainstream, whether as a result of regime change (such as not only the overthrow of dictatorial regimes, but also through elections), changes in ownership, etc. Ethnic and other minority journalists may simultaneously aspire to uphold mainstream journalistic values while implicitly challenging the established order by giving voice to marginalized communities, or, in the case of émigré publications, they may simultaneously support established opinion in the new homeland while filling an oppositional role in the home country. Many of these media reach small audiences, whether as a result of governmental or other external controls, a lack of financing and access to distribution channels to reach larger audiences, or a commitment to a deeply participatory communications practice that requires intimacy to succeed. Nonetheless, alternative journalism has been around as long as journalism itself.

General Overviews

Alternative journalism began to receive sustained scholarly attention only recently. Most of the literature remains devoted to case studies or to histories of particular media organizations, with little emphasis on broader processes and trends. However, a growing body of work seeks to develop a theoretical framework in which to understand alternative journalism. Downing 2001 is among the first scholarly works to devote sustained attention to alternative journalism, focusing upon media linked to radical social movements. More recently, Atton 2002 and Atton and Hamilton 2008 aim to better conceptualize alternative journalism and to explore its practice in a rigorous and transnational way. Couldry and Curran 2003 offers international case studies grounded in political economy and institutional frameworks, while Forde 2011 focuses on alternative journalism practitioners. Jeppesen 2016, a typology of alternative media, explores their very different motivations and organizational practices, ranging from self-realization to social transformation. For those considering a more hands-on approach, Coyer, et al. 2007 combines a richly diverse (in international coverage and in terms of media forms) overview of alternative media practices with practical guidance to alternative media production. Downing 2011 offers hundreds of short entries examining theoretical issues and media forms, as well as a diverse array of case studies drawn from around the world.

  • Atton, Chris. 2002. Alternative media. London: SAGE.

    This book offers a theoretical view of alternative media that includes contexts of production and use as much as content. After exploring theoretical and structural issues, chapters examine zines, social movement publications of the 1990s, and the Internet. Alternative media facilitate new forms of social organization and engagement. Available as an e-book.

  • Atton, Chris, and James F. Hamilton. 2008. Alternative journalism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Alternative journalism arises out of discontent with dominant media practices, challenging professionalization and reliance on elite sources in favor of a journalism giving voice to the marginalized and underrepresented. Offers a historical overview, consideration of political and economic factors, case studies (with a particular focus on those who produce alternative journalism), and theoretical perspectives. Available as an e-book.

  • Couldry, Nick, and James Curran, eds. 2003. Contesting media power: Alternative media in a networked world. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    This theoretically rich collection examines alternative media in Australia, Chile, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, Sweden, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, exploring the contradictions inherent in their relationship to the market (especially alternative weeklies), civil society, and the state. The final section considers the potential for new media to transcend national boundaries.

  • Coyer, Kate, Tony Dowmunt, and Alan Fountain, eds. 2007. The alternative media handbook. London: Routledge.

    Notable for its breadth of examples, including Radio Rasa (Soweto), documentary video in Argentina, alternative television in Amsterdam, Italy’s micro-TV, community radio in Tanzania, the weekly paper Brasil de Fato, an interactive 3D video game on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, and participatory video in Malawi, along with examples from Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States.

  • Downing, John. 2001. Radical media: Rebellious communication and social movements. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Extensively revised from the 1984 South End Press edition subtitled “The Political Experience of Alternative Communications.” This pioneering work situates radical media in a theoretical context, explores a wide array of communication practices (from popular theater to murals to the Internet), and offers detailed case studies of self-managed media in Italy and Portugal, public access broadcasting in the United States, and samizdat publications in the former Soviet bloc.

  • Downing, John D. H., ed. 2011. Encyclopedia of social movement media. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781412979313

    Some 250 entries offer overviews of social movement media and alternative journalism projects around the world. An excellent starting point for research, with particularly strong coverage of indigenous media, cultural interventions, alternative radio, and dozens of entries addressing alternative media in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, ranging from well-known online sites to the newspaper of the Ankara (Turkey) Recycling Association.

  • Forde, Susan. 2011. Challenging the news: The journalism of alternative and community media. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-230-36096-9

    A long tradition of alternative journalism is rooted in communities and social struggles. Draws on studies of alternative journalists and their audiences in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Detailed engagement with the practices and values of alternative journalists, based on Forde’s interviews and survey, as well as giving substantial attention to the resource and regulatory environments in which they operate.

  • Jeppesen, Sandra. 2016. Understanding alternative media power: Mapping content & practice to theory, ideology, and political action. Democratic Communiqué 27.1: 54–77.

    Maps four types of alternative media practice—do it yourself, citizen, critical, and autonomous media—and explores the implications for content, processes of production, and relationships to social movements. Each posits a different understanding of oppression and, hence, how alternative media practices can empower the disenfranchised.

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