In the age of digital information, the landscape of journalism is undergoing a huge transformation. Traditional media outlets are no longer the only source of news and information. Instead, alternative media and citizen journalism have emerged as powerful tools, reshaping how we absorb and interpret the world's events.
Illustration by Team Geostrata
Alternative media stands for non-traditional sources of news and information that challenge the narratives presented by established media outlets. This movement gained momentum due to alleged biases, sensationalism, and corporate interests which are widespread in mainstream media.
Alternative media outlets generally prioritise independent, community-driven reporting over profit-driven agendas. As a result, Citizen journalism and alternative media cover extensive topics, from grassroots activism and social justice issues to underreported global events.
They help ordinary individuals become reporters and storytellers, using their smartphones and social media platforms to record events as they unfold, from local protests to international conflicts.
One important feature of alternative media is its diversity which fills the gaps left by traditional media by providing first-hand direct information of events and issues that might otherwise be ignored or underreported.
It covers blogs, podcasts, independent news websites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channels, social media accounts, radio stations and non-profit organisations as they have become essential tools for disseminating real-time information. These platforms provide a voice to marginalized communities and underrepresented perspectives. They operate on principles of transparency, accountability, and a commitment to social change.
THE IMPACT OF ALTERNATIVE MEDIA AND CITIZEN JOURNALISM
Diverse Perspectives: Alternative media and citizen journalism offer a broader range of perspectives, ensuring that a more comprehensive picture of events emerges. This diversity challenges the dominance of mainstream narratives by giving voice to the marginalized communities and individuals to share their stories and perspectives.
This has helped to raise awareness of important issues that might otherwise be ignored by mainstream media. For example, the Arab Spring uprisings were largely documented and disseminated by citizen journalists, providing a platform for marginalized voices and challenging the mainstream media narrative.
Increased Accountability: The presence of alternative media and citizen journalism has made it tougher for traditional media outlets to get away with biased or inaccurate reporting by acting as a check on those in power.
Knowing that their actions may be documented and shared, individuals and institutions are often held to higher levels of accountability. A very good example of this can be, The Black Lives Matter movement which has used alternative media and citizen journalism to hold police departments accountable for misconduct.
Rapid Information Dissemination: In the age of social media, news and information can spread globally within seconds. This speed is especially crucial in emergencies, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises.
A very good template for this can be COVID-19 pandemic, where citizen journalists have provided real-time updates from hospitals and communities around the world, often filling gaps left by traditional media outlets.
Community Empowerment: Alternative media outlets often prioritize stories that matter most to local communities. This localized reporting can help communities address their unique challenges and needs. In this regard, a very good example is the "Me Too movement" which has used alternative media and citizen journalism to give a voice to survivors of sexual assault and harassment and to hold perpetrators accountable.
Building Trust: Many audiences perceive alternative media and citizen journalists as more trustworthy than mainstream media. This trust is often attributed to their perceived independence and transparency.
As a result, A 2020 survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 56% of people trust news from non-traditional sources, such as independent websites and social media, compared to 47% who trust news from traditional sources, such as newspapers and television.
While alternative media and citizen journalism have brought about positive change, they also face significant challenges such as:
Credibility and Verification: With so many people sharing information online, it's tough to tell what's real and what's made up, which in turn results in the spread of misinformation, creating a negative impact on our society leading to conflict and protest as an example.
Misinformation and disinformation: Alternative media and citizen journalism can be easily used to spread misinformation in order to harass and bully people intentionally, or to trick people into promoting a particular agenda, or through the sharing of unverified information which in turn can have a negative impact on public discourse and can undermine democracy.
Ethical Concerns: Citizen journalists may lack formal training in journalism ethics, raising questions about their ability to navigate sensitive subjects responsibly. In addition, sometimes alternative media outlets may be funded by special interests, which can bias their reporting.
Filter Bubbles: Like social media in general, alternative media can create echo chambers where individuals are only exposed to information that aligns with their preexisting beliefs. This can lead to a narrow outlook on the world and can make it difficult to have informed discussions with people who hold different opinions.
Limited Resources: Many alternative media outlets operate on small-scale budgets, restraining their ability to cover stories comprehensively or invest in investigative journalism. This makes it difficult to compete with mainstream media outlets that have more resources.
Suppression and Censorship: In some regions, citizen journalists face threats, harassment, and government censorship for their work. This can make it difficult for them to report on sensitive topics or to hold those in power accountable. For example, in China, citizen journalists who report on issues such as human rights abuses and corruption are often detained and imprisoned.
Despite these challenges, alternative media and citizen journalism are still evolving fields that continue to empower individuals to become active participants in news creation and dissemination.
By doing so, they strengthen the foundations of democracy, uphold principles of free expression, make it more accountable, and contribute to a more informed and engaged society responsive to the needs and voices of the people.