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

Introduction

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

Introduction
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.

Conclusions

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.