Why alternative media are conquering the world

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Alternative media are rapidly overtaking print media as the go to sources of news and opinion. Alan Austin provides 11 reasons why.

FEW CONSUMERS OF WRITTEN NEWS curious about the carbon tax repeal debate in the Senate on Thursday waited for the Friday papers. News and analysis were all online as events unfolded.

Instant access to important developments – such as the Bust the Budget rallies last weekend – is one reason online written media are gaining ascendancy over print.

1. Immediacy

This is the first reason the old paper empires are crumbling and online outlets growing – immediate news. There are at least ten others:

2. Independence

Most online outlets are small, independent and motivated by some sort of commitment to the community rather than shareholder profits.

Hence, they are almost completely free of the systematic manipulation of the Murdoch and Fairfax newspapers in Australia, all of which operate with an ingrained culture of supporting big business and conservative politics.

The overwhelming coverage of domestic politics by News Corp in Australia is Coalition good, Labor bad, with distortions, omissions and blatant lies, as needed.

Tim Dunlop recently wrote in the ABC’s online publication The Drum:

‘The mainstream media ... either oversimplify everything to the point of caricature, or they become – as is the case of the Murdoch newspapers – openly and comically partisan.’

Most online media outlets not owned by Murdoch or Fairfax offer much greater accuracy and a more complete analysis simply by virtue of their independence.

Other features of the online media guarantee greater reliability as well.

3. Embedded hotlinks

A complex piece by Tess Lawrence here at Independent Australia last month on the jailing of Peter Greste contained over 50 links to support her story.

These included non-government organisations, foreign news outlets, international agencies, academic papers, multinational corporations, news archives and, of course, every writer’s wizard’s wand, Wikipedia.

Having sources accessible at a click does three things: it shows the research has been done, it allows dubious readers to find instant validation, and it allows those provoked to further research to do so immediately.

Independent Australia, for instance, has a policy of providing a link on the name and the claim.

4. Interaction

Last Thursday, The Guardian ran a technical piece on interest rates by Greg Jericho. Conversation soon began with readers supportive, hostile and neutral. Jericho responded promptly to eight of the first ten reader comments with clarification and further data, as required.

In-depth dialogue between readers and author often greatly elucidates the topic. It is not unusual to have 300 or more comments following an online article.

5. Multimedia content

Most successful online print journals incorporate audio, music, TV news clips, archived videos, fresh comedy videos, instant opinion polls, photo galleries and more along with the static print.

Some analysts, including IA editor David Donovan, believe online media is more analogous to broadcasting than print.

6. Supplementary information

In last month’s tobacco wars between economist Stephen Koukoulas and various employees of Murdoch’s News Corp, two writers at The Australian attacked the ABC’s Media Watch for not revealing Koukoulas’s connection with the Labor Party.

They were Christian Kerr and Adam Creighton whose political affiliations were not disclosed by The Australian.

Kerr, as Koukoulas revealed on his blog The Kouk, worked for Liberal ministers Amanda Vanstone and Robert Hill in the Howard years and with South Australian Liberal Premier John Olsen. Creighton was economics advisor to Tony Abbott. 

Such hypocrisies are largely avoided by online publications, which usually have direct links to an author’s bio.

Other items of supplementary information, which are not necessary to understand an article but handy to have available at a click, include previous articles by the author and articles on the topic by other writers.

Repositories created on the site for particular popular topics provide invaluable instant archiving.

Examples of these are the Ashbygate and Jacksonville dedicated pages here at IA.

7. Prompt corrections

Immediately an error is detected, an online editor can correct the error in the piece and add a clarifying note at the end.

With newspapers, this takes at least until the next edition 24 hours later. Or in the case of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph it takes several months — and even then only when forced kicking and screaming by the Press Council.

8. Democracy

Writing for the alternative media is not restricted to recognised professional journalists. Several online outlets, such as Independent Australia, On Line Opinion and The Australian Independent Media Network pride themselves on citizen journalism and offer editorial assistance to contributors.


9. Competitive environment

Paper news sheets increasingly operate without direct competition. There is just the one local daily newspaper in most Australian states.

In contrast, there are about 25 significant online publications in Australia dealing with political and social issues. Plus even more excellent overseas outlets and innumerable accessible blogs. This, in itself, puts pressure on all of them to be current, well-researched and accurate, whatever their political slant.

Hence, those which do not meet reader expectations will soon be weeded out. It is much easier for online publications to come and go than print outlets.

New starters in Australia in the last year or so include The Guardian Australia, The New Daily and Red Flag.

In January, The Global Mail folded, so to speak. Despite a promising start with extravagant funding, a star-studded editorial team and great publicity, it lasted barely two years.

And New Matilda, which has always struggled to gain a wide audience, was closed in May by its founder until a buyer came suddenly to the rescue.

10. Mostly free

Articles in the majority of Murdoch and Fairfax websites are now behind paywalls, as they are at Crikey and, since April, The Hoopla.

Most other online journals are sustained by advertising, philanthropy or donations rather than reader subscription.

This is possible because production is obviously far less labour and capital intensive than printing and distributing paper products.

11. Instantly shared

Sally McManus

Earlier this year Sally McManus published on IA a list of ‘Tony Abbott’s trail of wreckage’ (which she is still updating on her own blog).

To her surprise and delight, this was instantly shared by thousands of readers keen to onpass this extraordinary database. Total social media shares – via Twitter, facebook, Reddit, linkedin and others – for just that one article eventually exceeded 21,000.

Eat your heart out Herald Sun!

So, there are eleven reasons. But are there more?

If so, please join the discussion below and interact – for free – with the author who welcomes tweets and facebook shares and will post corrections, if required, in this competitive but democratic and mostly accurate alternative multimedia environment.

Coming soon: The alternative media part 2: Who are the players? Who are the winners and losers – so far? You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @alantheamazing.

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