Stories and Streams, Week 2: Exploring the Role of Alternative Media Workers @BCUMedia


See previous posts for context on the ‘stories and streams’ project at Birmingham City University.

Week 1
Stories and Streams blog [With all posts from Paul Bradshaw and myself, plus student bloggers from the module Luke Seager and Jennie Cosh and videos from Humaira Razzaq (all student-academic partners)]

This week’s Alternative Media stream focused on the roles and the mode of the Alternative Media worker, exploring the different formats and styles that can be considered as being ‘alternative media.’ As this workshop is part of a larger set of joint modules who are working together in a student-led investigative journalism working newsroom, the purpose of this short session was allow for those who are on the Alt Media and Multimedia Journalism stream to think critically about the political implications of their role as an independent media producer.

Discussion below are adapted from notes shared by Jon Hickman (module leader) on the subject area.

Nigg and Wade (1980) argues that there are three different modes of working in the Alternative Media sphere; the auteur, the enabler and the collaborator.

Modes of working

Auteur – authorship: media worker represents the subjects, tells the story through their own vision of the problem. This might be seen as problematic as it is closer to mainstream media ideas. The exception here is if the auteur is a representative of that which they represent – e.g. a feminist making feminist media. This can be see in examples of political shorts reflecting ‘issues’ such as the climate camp video “fences” that was shown in class.

Enabler: the media worker assists media subjects in creating their own media products. The example given in class was Citizen’s Eye, a community news agency based in Leicester. John Coster, the editor, explains the purpose and the history of the organisation in the short video below, where one of the aims of their work is to encourage people of the local community to become empowered to tell their own stories through online media. 

Collaboration: This is a combination of the two modes above. So some structure and authorial control put into place by a media worker, but the subject is also active in production. The example used in class was the ‘audioboo’ accent archiving project for the British Library, that was used to capture the accents of europe through ‘user-generated’ submission. The community who participated were engaged with the British Library previously, but got to contribute themselves and how they speak as part of the community generate project.

In addition to the modes of working, Nigg and Wade also reveals four different archetypes of media workers relating to alternative media. They describe who the media worker might be and how they consider personal politics through their motivation to create media content.

Alternative Media Archetypes

The Radical – has a political agenda they wish to put forward through their media work. They will seek projects that provide a platform for their politics. For example a campaigner for disability rights who uses social media to enable others to lobby. The example used in class was the Spartacus Report, relating to the campaign access the changes to disability benefits.

The Thinker – takes a broader approach than a radical (which can be targeted around specific issues), but still very much political. Concerned with issues of representation in the mainstream media, and would see alternativeness itself as their political aim. By producing and consuming alternative media, they may even actively reject the mainstream media through their decisions to participate in an alternative media space. The example used in class was ‘the fword uk‘ – an online magazine dedicated to discussion around feminist issues and sharing ideas between contributors.

The Operator – they speak to the political need for alternativeness, but may not consider themselves to be ‘political’ – removing themselves from the critique whilst critique other approaches (the mainstream media) in the process. Where they are political they may take a narrow political position (as the radical) or a meta position (as the thinker) but this will be articulated primarily as a means to produce profit making interventions: Activism for profit. They follow the money and thus we might expect their position to change. Two sub types here: 1) clearly corporate, works funders and public sector, looking for commissions for work. May use altruism as part of marketing approach. 2) May seem to be a radical or a thinker, but they use this rather cynically and may be funded through other means e.g. paid for blogging and amplifying of products that they use in their work.

The Hobbyist: a member of the community being served, or someone who just likes to play with media as part of hobby like projects. Perhaps a retired/unemployed media worker. There may be issues of sustainability in terms of community media groups as participation is down to the issues that they may personally effect them at particular times, rather than a wider community media context. They can also be the backbone to larger alternative media projects as they contribute scope and variety to interpretation that may be missed during single issue campaigning.


The role of the alternative media worker (and therefore the political approach and mode of working that is decided by each student) is very much to think about the personal as being political – where instead of presenting a uniformed approach in order to pass an assignment, students should be encouraged to think about their own political position towards what they communicate around and through their work practice. Therefore, through the next two weeks of workshops on the Alternative Media stream, students will be asked to develop and refine their own positions using the guidelines above.

It is also worth baring in mind that these roles were defined in 1980, a long time before we are to think about the role of the web and web production in this space. How does this reflect and change the social and political context of your work? How do they examples use new media to convey and amplify their causes and their stories?

Next week will focus on the discourses and conventions of alternative media, looking at what makes media content “look” alternative and how these rhetoric devices have been used in the mainstream media to present alternative media as a style rather than a political approach.

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Stories and Streams, Week 1: Exploring the Education and Olympic Context @BCUMedia #media2012

Today kicked off the first ever joint Online Journalism and Alternative Media 2nd year production module at Birmingham City University. After spending some time (re)developing the model for delivery, this morning was where we put our shared google documents into practice.

Process: News Conference and Forming of Groups

After an hour long news conference (video above shows format), where students were encouraged to explore the potential issues and research questions to aid their future investigations, they were asked to complete a short questionnaire (based on skills and interests) in order to establish which role they were be given for the duration of the module. Each group has 5-6 members, with each member having a different role in the group – which will be rotated at least once in the course of the semester so that everyone gets a chance to try a different job. These include the editor, the data journalist, the multimedia journalist, the network journalist and the community manager. The detailed job description of each role and their expectation for production are available here. The BCU newsroom etiquette charter is also the backbone behind the investigation principles and is available here.

From this roles, they were then asked to think about what they need to know and what workshop session they should attend during the breakout sessions. There are three streams, delivered by Paul, Caroline and myself and each session provides a different take similar themes for each week, where the student must not only think about what they need for the ongoing investigation but to in turn, relay back for they have learned at each session to the rest of their group, providing a peer-to-peer support network in their groups and challenges the one-to-many format.

Some snaps of the workings behind formulating research questions around the Olympics and Education.

Stream 2: Understanding the Alternativeness of Alternative Media (Multimedia Journalists)

The Alternative Media and Web Production theme has two core elements this week: 

1) the understanding the elements of ‘alternativeness’ in relation to the case studies presented – and being able to help the other members of their groups to find those stories as part of wider investigations. What is the dominant ‘mainstream’ message and how and where are the alternative(s) presented?

 2) producing content for the web, which might not necessary just be producing websites. These can include audio (podcasts and interviews), video (documentaries, news features, exposés, creative content, subversion and detournement) photography and graphic design, events and the coverage of events, live blogging and on-the-ground reporting (amongst other styles) – there is no limit on what and how things are produced using the tools that available to the students, it’s down to their own perspective and desire to create and learn how to carry such production out.

Some advised tasks (based on the week 1 workshop on Alternative Media) to be thinking about as Alternative Media students working as Multimedia Journalists:

Find the ‘dominant’ stories around Education and the Olympics this week (depending on group’s theme), read newspapers and listen to show’s such as Radio 4 Today show in the morning (or on bbc iplayer) that tend to break and spark the themes of news discussion of the day – including responses by bloggers. You need to be developing a research portfolio and background to the dominant reporting around the olympics or education so that you can understand the role of the web and alternative media in contrast – find the responses to these stories in the blogsphere and social media and keep a record of links and where you found them, what format they exist in and who is producing them. Recognize patterns that emerge, when and how are education/Olympic stories conveyed – how are they responded to? Who influences the responses and who and what are the alternatives to the mainstream approach? Where do you (and the rest of your group) fit in?

From now the students will be working in their groups to carry out an investigation around the best issues that they came up with this morning. They will be working as teams to carry out work relating to their individual roles in order to produce something more than just a ‘story’ – this will be the process throughout the entire term, where they will be expected not only to produce suitable responses to critical issues but also to combine the principles of research and practice throughout their different themes. These will feed into two key networks, #media2012 (through my involvement) and Help Me Investigate (Paul’s involvement.)

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Stories and Streams: Introduction to Alternative Media and Web Production @BCUMedia #media2012

Following on from last year’s #mc539 Alternative Media and Web Production (AM&WP) module at Birmingham City University, which I had an active role in developing as a course and was encouraged to be shared online beyond the classroom through a class blog and the #media2012 network – this year we (Jon Hickman and myself) have collaborated with Paul Bradshaw and his 2nd year Online Journalism (OJ) module to produce, what we hope, is an innovative approach to teaching both OJ and AM&WP as a working newsroom behind an online content management system, where both sets of students from each module will work together to research, develop and report on stories across two important themes for 2012; higher education and the London 2012 Olympics.

What makes the combination of these modules stand out is (what we hope) the innovative pedagogy- where we have decided not to follow the usual lecture/workshop model that mc539 (now med5008) still maintained. Each week will follow a structure of a news conference, an option to attend one of 3 streams (delivered by Paul, Caroline Beavon and myself) and a working newsroom – with students working in groups of 5 throughout. Within those 5, there are roles delegated to each individual: Editor, Community Manager, Multimedia Journalist (AM&WP students), Data Journalist and Network Aggregator. The editor decides what streams that their team should go to – and in turn, each member that gets to attend a workshop session has to feed it back to the rest of their group, much like how you are expected to feedback workshops in specific work situations – encouraging peer-to-peer learning.

My stream focuses on ‘stealth theory’ – that is, developing an understanding for the ‘alternativeness’ in contrast to the mainstream. I will be focusing on developing a critique of large media events and helping to guide where they might find the alternative story in the process. Importantly, it is about unpicking discourses and rhetoric in the mainstream media and being able to use that to research and construct stories that may not be covered otherwise. For instance, what does it mean when a corporate PR company contacts you to recruit students, to work for free on olympic related research jobs, in return for the ‘prestige’ of being remotely associated with that space?  I have a feeling that this is only going to increase as we raise visibility of the project, and the students begin working towards the Olympics in 6 months time.

To get them started, I am putting together an “Olympic Lead” sheet on google documents that cover some of the issues that are not covered in the mainstream media around the games. This is an open document and can be added to by anyone. I encourage anyone to add to it.

The module is also part of a wider research project where we will be blogging the entire process as lecturers, recruiting some students as part of the Student-Academic Partnership program with BCU’s Student Union to record sessions using a flipcam and adding to a public youtube channel and seeing this newsroom as being part of the West Midlands hub for #media2012.

More to follow as the week’s progress, following the category tag “Stories and Streams:MED5008” which will also be relayed on a class blog over on BCU Media blog.

Module Synopsis below: 

Alternative media is not new, but the web has provided an increased opportunity for alternative-ness. This course addresses alternative media practices, and explore how the web provides opportunities for alternative production in the context of wider media events such as transformation in the higher education sector and the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games . The module explores a range of alternative media opportunities, including the cultural programme, media structures and the process of developing citizen media outputs. Traditional media events such as the Olympic Games (the most watched television spectacle in the world) can provide a local and timely context in which to access the phenomena of alternative media. Beyond the sport events, the Olympics is an domain where geopolitical issues are played out by competing narratives between the Olympic movement, media institutions, politicians and the public -positioning the tension of alternative discourse as part of the Olympic experience.

You will be working closely with the MED5001 Online Journalism, working in cross-module teams to produce multimedia content as part of an ongoing news team covering issues around the higher education debate and the Olympic Games. The module leader’s blog will provide additional background reading. You will also produce blogs, Twitter feeds and social bookmarking accounts to support your learning and to exchange ideas and information with other students.

You will develop an understanding of “alternativeness”, social media, participatory and citizen media. You will demonstrate these ideas through producing and publishing blogs, social networks, podcasts and videos to the web. You will also explore alternative enterprise ‘models’ and work closely with local media practitioners to produce a web product suitable for dissemination through the #media2012 citizen media network – a nationwide development towards a cultural, digital and alternative legacy for the London Olympiad.

Teaching and learning will be based on lectures introducing key concepts, supported by workshops exploring those in practical exercises. Directed independent study will develop knowledge and skills further.The skills and knowledge learned here could form the basis for a final year project and provide an introduction to debates and themes associated with alternative media, mega-events and citizen journalism. Assessment is based on ongoing and visible web production and journalistic practice – you will be assessed on both alternative media as a community engagement process but also in the weekly creative media outputs that you produce. This is intended to give you an awareness of different forms of alternative media, experience in using online methods of research, and experience of being an alternative media worker engaged with online communities.

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