October 2007

Exemplary online alternative media

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Introduction

It is perhaps no exaggeration that in many countries around the world the consumption of digital media has surpassed that of traditional media, including television and radio, which anyway have a larger consumer base than the print media. Following the trend one can say that the digital media will soon overtake, in absolute numbers, the leader of a long time, i.e. Television. Apart from readership, there are other factors that are pushing the production of news media to new frontiers. With  new developments in news delivery, one could very well be entering into a phenomenon of unscheduled content. Many see this as a democratic development, wherein news production will become truly collaborative in nature. Micro-publishing is seen as the new trend which will have to be embraced profitably by news corporations.

This is a narrative about the various forms of online news media that exemplify the potential of the web to become an alternative media platform. It is however important to begin with a few caveats.

First, that the online platform is only too amenable to be moulded to the interests of the big media corporations, who will go on to consolidate their readership. It is entirely arguable that media conglomerates will exercise the same dominant role over the internet as it has done with other forms of media. True, the new forms of media will transform the way the public interacts with politics and the press. But these new ways do not carry within themselves, an a priori democratic impulse. One can find many utopian visions that subscribe to the idea. If there is a potential for a user driven news production, it will be mostly channelled through organisations that assort the unlimited user generated news available. It is the channelling of news that will decide the kind of effect that user generated news will have on everyday life. The reportage has to be followed up with actions, and that is where a big question mark confronts us. How can we trust the authorities to pay heed to user generated reportage? However, the threat to establishment, from the phenomenon of user generated news and reportage, cannot be underestimated.

Secondly, it is important to ask about the kind of content that users are most likely to generate. In a world suffused with advertising, the way in which new technologies and paradigms are marketed will have a big influence on the production of content by users. Consider the much routed phenomenon of blogs. What is the political IQ of bloggers?What are people most likely to blog? One can speak here of both politically astute blogs, and of the great mass of apolitical and trivial blogging. Take for example the top ranked blogs in India. Most of these are about 'Hot babes', 'Bollywood Gossip', 'personal reflections' etc. This is not to underestimate the importance of personal expression but to underscore the importance of political consciousness. Also, this is a reflection on the popular consumption of textual material. It will not be surprising, if more than half of the content on the internet is pornographic in nature. However, we do see many concerted attempts, to provide alternatives to mainstream media by highlighting issues of social justice, policy analyses, and advocacy.

In fact one can already begin to see, that the phenomenon of user generated content, is posing a threat to  the establishment. Currently, the digital medium has been instrumental in bringing us images and videos from Myanmar, of the way the 'Junta' has cracked down on protesting monks, who embody mass aspirations of democracy. This is only one of many recent examples, about people using digital media for political opposition. Finally, the emergence of the new paradigm of user generated content holds tremendous possibilities, provided that the new paradigm fosters a political consciousness in users, and that effects of this production can be materialised in everyday life and politics.

In this first showcase, a few notable initiatives that fall under the category of online news and analyses, are highlighted.

Infochangeindia

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