Atton, Chris and Hamilton, James
F: Alternative Journalism. Sage, UK, 2008. ISBN 9781412947039
Like a choc-top at
the movies, traditional 'Big Media' journalism is having its head
ripped off at the moment. Thousands of newspaper reporters and editors
in the United States and the UK have lost their permanent jobs in the
In the United States,
subscribers to venerable printed newspapers such as the 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor and the 146-year-old Hearst regional, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (pictured), now have to settle for daily online delivery
And even in Brisbane,
newsprint addicts who also like Fairfax products have become accustomed
to reading their version of the daily news online at The Brisbane Times.
Question is: as the
choc-top is ripped off, is there anything other than lily-white ice-cream under there, or is there something of substance perhaps, like those no-boring bits products on the tele?
have been sinking (i.e. not keeping pace with population growth) for the
past 30 years, but since the global financial crisis heated up, thousands
of journalists have actually been sacked.
The comparative few
from Fairfax in Australia late last year have been dwarfed by those
thousands overseas. The rot might yet still spread deeper here. Murdoch's
News Corporation last month announced comparatively huge losses, and
Fairfax bosses have hinted strongly at more adjustments.
Of course, there is
a big 'so what?' factor here. Thousands of miners, manufacturing
workers and retail staff have gotten the bump since June and the numbers
say layoffs are only going to get worse. Why should we feel any sadder
just because journalists are feeling the pinch?
Perhaps it's because
journalists — at least those worth bothering about — are the canaries
in our national mine. You might get a build up of lethal gases but unless
the canaries are there in the first place to tweet, you'll never know. Then everyone dies, including the canary. Unless journalists are
there to help us stay in touch with the problems and issues of our society,
the gas can close in without warning.
So it's reassuring
to see a book which offers an alternative to the canary-shaped journalism
which seems to be keeling over right now.
Two academic researchers, Chris Atton and James
F Hamilton, have combined
to show us that, despite what the Big Media bigwigs of the establishment
say, there is an alternative to the journalism of Murdoch, Fairfax and
the ABC, and internationally of the BBC, CNN and Reuters. In fact there
are many alternatives. This is apparently also news to many journalists
themselves, judging by the industry moaning now.
Atton and Hamilton demonstrate, step by careful step,
what these alternatives to the existing media look and sound like. They point out the successful business models which allow them to continue
and become successful.
Their essential message
is: the mere fact that established media journalists say 'journalism
is dying', doesn't make it so.
today and last year have been worrying that the world as they know it — employed journalism beneath the roofs of Murdoch, Packer, Stokes,
Fairfax and even Aunty ABC — is changing.
Well, it is, but Atton
and Hamilton demonstrate that the move to alternative journalism, which,
admittedly, includes amateur as well as professional citizen journalism, blogging, YouTube and Flikr, along with many others, has a long
history which predates the Internet, the BBC, and the famous big-name
newspapers of the 19th and 20th enturies.
For instance, the 'new
journalism' of the 1960s and 70s and the bloggers of the 21st
century might be more accurately described as 'newer versions' of
the Industrial Revolution phenomenon of popular presses challenging
political journalism of the day.
I enjoyed seeing what my mates and I did for 20 years in the Murdoch Empire
being described as 'bourgeois journalism' … it is exactly that,
of course, although we would have been horrified to hear it so described.
And if the mainstream journos of today reckon they're taking the fight
up to their various governments, they might consider what Atton and Hamilton call 'oppositional journalism' and get real about the task
There are serious and
gritty topics in Alternative Journalism and some questions are
raised but not solved … a nice contemporary interactive touch, since
we the readers are left to write the answers on the blank pages of our
Issues such as professionalization and epistemology: is something
correct because a trained journalist writes it, and equally incorrect
because an amateur citizen journalism writes it? Are activist/advocate
journalists stepping over an ethical line, or is the line even there?
The authors collect
information on who these alternative journalists are, and what they do. They look at what are called 'participatory forms' and
fanzines (online magazines run by fans of various artists and subcultures).
And the big issue of
commercial models for journalism: who will pay for it? At the Future
of Journalism conference in Sydney last year, I sat on the stage and squirmed as old hands asked who would
pay them and what would they do next as employers desperately sought
to save struggling enterprises.
My response was that we journalists should look
to ourselves for the answer
and find our own
business models, rather
than wait for investors and other capital-rich types to find it and
tell us when it's ready.
Big Media is beginning
to respond. For example, the New York Times has moved explicitly to incorporate citizen journalism into
I liked reading
Alternative Journalism for another reason: these guys are teachers
and they carefully signpost their work. The introduction tells you what's
coming in the book, and the start of each chapter tells you what's
But heed this other
signpost on our road: you'll have to be keen to get the message, or be
in a very intellectual frame of mind, because Alternative Journalism
is a typical textbook: densely written and chock
full of academic terminology. This is a good thing in my world, of course,
but I breathe university air. Perhaps Atton and Hamilton will follow
up with a Twitter version of their book, published in single sentences.
Have you ever contributed an article or picture or digital file to a citizen journalism website? Do you think there is any difference these days between citizen journalism and other journalism? What do you expect from journalism? Share your thoughts and links to your citizen journalism work below.
John Cokley is a lecturer in journalism at the University of Queensland.