Friday, February 29, 2008

Interview about alternative media

> To whom it may concern,
> I am a Spanish freelance
> journalist who is working on an article on how alternative media and
> user generated content news organisations give minorities a voice
> which corporate media sometimes chooses to ignore. I am planning to
> publish in The Big Issue. I am writing this article driven by the
> desire to look for solution to an imbalanced media which shadows
> minorities. It would be great to hear what you have to say on this
> issue.
> Do you think that ethnic minorities, victims of violence or corruption
> and other social groups feel that the media is falling to give them a
> voice?

I assume you mean the mainstream media? The alternative media has grown strong over the last 10 years and now campaigners, or any minorities can spread their message wide and coherently. A decade ago Undercurrents videos of a protest against a roadbuilding scheme would gain an audience of around 10,000 by distributing VHS video tapes, now with the internet we reach 160,000 with DVD quality downloads. The videos are then shown to various communities. Very exciting stuff. Many people are (slowly in some cases) that the mainstream media is losing much of it's power. Following narrow corporate agendas has alienated the public who are seeking real news and stories. Campaigners have a voice within the growing alternative media such as undercurrents video, indymedia,schnews and other outlets.

> Is the public interested in development stories and that of human
> suffering? Why?
Yes they are but usually only if presented in a way that the public feel they can make a difference. Usually the angle the mainstream media portrays is of victims. The mainstream may say that Homeless people deserve our sympathy and persuade us to give them some money but rarely challenges the reasons why so many people are on the streets in the first place. Alternative media tends to highlight the people actively out there changing the system. Setting up social centres in disused buildings, community cafes, cheap quality food coops etc. When the public sees the issue framed through this lens, people become interested in development stories.

> How can we make those stories more appealing to the general public?
AS i said above, involve people in a real way, not in handouts. This is why direct action empowers people. We all need inspiration and the corporate owned media translate that into buying products. Undercurrents view our mission to kick down the facade of the corporate owned media and opening up a new world where people feel involved in democracy ad feel they can make a difference.

> Do you think that news organisations based on user generated content,
> such as Indymedia, are effective in portraying reality and
> representing minorities? Why and how?

User content is by the people for the people. We are not restricted to one viewpoint. Indymedia can have 40 reports of the same event from different angle. No mainstream media can touch that insight. Undercurrents videos made by hundreds of different British people resonate around the world with different cultures and nationalities. We give a platform for the views which rarely get heard in the mainstream. But the mainstream does have its place and user content helps build up a movement which then the mainstream media picks up on(we generally find it s 3 years for important issues to filter through the mainstream net).

> Is citizen journalism a good solution to get people to see the reality
> of what is going on? Or do you think there is need for more editorial
> control?

Citizen journalism works so well because anyone can be a reporter. If you want to report about something you understand, then you already are one step ahead of most corporate media journalists. Seeing reality is about engaging with the world to explore different perspectives than your own. Undercurrents has been supporting people to become citizen journalists for nearly 15 years now. Many of the people we have trained are now active within their own community media but others are working within Sky news, Channel 4, BBC and others. So shaping reality is about positoning yourself to shape the system around you.
I am a strong supporter of peer editorial control. Experience counts for a lot and quality is important if we expect the wider public to hear views from the grassroots. There are many alternative media jouranalists working and supporting new talent to tell their stories. Long may it continue.

Undercurents is now involved in creating Vision On Tv- a new channel for spreading news of activism, inspiration, social change and environmental issues. We aim to launch in Summer but people can download our video player and try it out on

Paul O'Connor

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