Approaching Alternative Media


Alternative and community media has become an important field of study as well as a crucial means of information for many groups that are not connected to mainstream mediums. In America where population diversity exists in numerous neighborhoods scattered across the country, national media, state-run media, and sometimes local news, cannot cover or reach different and various interests.  The alternative medium allows those who do not feel represented by the mainstream industry to express and announce their own perspectives and voices. Around the world, it provides a range of resources for citizens, varying on geographical, social, and cultural context.

The characteristics of alternative media can be roughly defined by the following: 1) a strong emphasis on community, whether that be local geography, collective identity, or community of interest; 2) the relationship between medium and audience replicates a model of two-way communication of access and civic participation; 3) counter to mainstream media in hegemonic ideology and corporate functions, such as organizational structure, funding, etc.; and lastly, 4) part of civil society, as in being a voice that is not of the state or of commercial media (Bailey et. al).

Bailey, Cammeaert, and Carpentier’s Alternative Media as an Alternative to Mainstream Media

“This concept introduces a distinction between mainstream and alternative media, in which alternative media are seen as a supplement to mainstream media, or as a counter-hegemonic critique of the mainstream” (15).

Bailey and company developed four approaches to identify the characteristics of alternative media, and this project draws from the approach, which focuses on the relationship of alternative media to and with mainstream media.  The relationship  between the two is just as inseparable as the continual relation between the “majority” and the “minority” group, as described by Antonio Gramsci and Stuart Hall (see section on Ethnic Identity and Media Construction).  One of alternative media’s functions is to respond to mainstream media’s construction, framing, and reproduction of society’s main social actors (such as influential politicians, the state, private sector). While the mainstream has the power to naturalize dominant discourse, alternative media allows subgroups to “exercise their power to contest hegemonic meanings through a practice of resistance that is, to produce non-conformist and counter-hegemonic representations of the views of those marginalized, misrepresented, and underrepresented in the public sphere” (17).

As long as mainstream media is synonymous with being corporate vertically structured and organized, and producing commercial content geared towards large-scale homogenous audiences, alternative media would contingently occupy one or more of the following general positions, as expressed by Bailey et. al:

  • Small-scale oriented towards specific, usually disadvantaged groups, respecting their diversity
  • Independent of state and market
  • Horizontally structured: more audience access and participation
  • Carriers of non-dominant/counter-hegemonic discourse and self-representations

On an organizational level, alternative media offers the option of a third-sector for media organizations. On a content level, ideologies, representations, and discourses do not only vary from the mainstream coverage but also aim to instigate some sort of change in society and the community it focuses on. The change does not have to be drastic but relates directly to what is being challenged within its content.

From a critical standpoint, alternative media is regarded and criticized for being unprofessional, amateur-like, inefficient, and limited in its outreach, and marginal by its competitors (as those in public and/or corporate media). This sort of attack bases itself on denying the need for alternative media because its lack of coverage and ability to cover the functions of media as related to society. “One of the main consequences of marginalizing or connotating the alternative and counter-hegemonic negatively is the low political priority given to what is considered to be marginal” (20).  With Hyphen, the stereotypes of alternative media will be challenged and what is deemed as the “marginal voice” might not always stay in the marginalized spaces.

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