As the influence of alternative media expands, it is important to consider what actually sets it apart.

Sometimes it can seem as if people are trying to be different just for the sake of being different. Alternative media could potentially be viewed as one of these things. 

There are differing definitions of what makes something “alternative.” It is mostly agreed, however, that it can’t be mainstream: published by a major news outlet or publisher, and needs to go against what would be considered the normal political or social views. Some would say that it has to be working toward a goal of changing something or advocating for a radical view of something. Media in this sense would be any type of content: videos, articles, podcasts, etc. 

For an outlet to be considered alternative, it usually needs to be non-profit. This is because if advertisers are involved in what is being published, most of the time it will not be against the mainstream because the advertiser’s will push for it to appeal to a broad audience in order to generate more revenue. An example of this type of alternative outlet would be Mother Jones, which is a reader-supported investigative news organization that is published by a non-profit.

This is a key part of alternative media that sets it apart from mainstream media. Its alternativeness comes from the fact that it is not trying to appeal to a large or wide audience but instead trying to present a different view of something that is already mainstream. 

The news outlet The Intercept makes its appeal to readers by promising adversarial and fearless journalism. One of its top trending headlines currently, “Inflation is good for you,”has a by-line that reads, “Don’t panic over milk prices. Inflation is bad for the 1 percent but helps out almost everyone else.” In the article itself, New York Times and The Washington Post articles about how inflation is bad are cited, though this story is saying the exact opposite. This is an example of alternative media presenting an opposite viewpoint than the mainstream outlets. 

Alternative media makes sense because it is important for those who have a different or alternative view of something to be able to publish it. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s a threat to mainstream media.  There is plenty of space in today’s times for a non-profit news outlet to make a change that would also leave room for the larger, more well-known outlets. These potentially dissenting voices are important in society and media, but I don’t think they will change the actual nature of mainstream media. 

I can see why people are drawn to these outliers in the media world as opposed to a large media corporation. That being said, however, I do think that something that started out as having the reputable goal of advocating for a marginalized point of view can very easily begin to cater only to a particular radical audience for its support. Then, what could be seen as an alternative form of media compared to the mainstream is still doing what mainstream media does: appealing to a certain audience, just a smaller one. 

For alternative media to truly be effective, it has the impossible goal of always taking the opposing side of mainstream media in issues of public concern. This would give the authors and publishers a difficult job of never appealing to anyone regularly, which would make maintaining a steady readership problematic. 

Perhaps this is the point of alternative media though, to present a third viewpoint opposing the two same ones that are always reported in mainstream media. However, this still goes back to the earlier point where they have the difficult task of not catering to a single small audience or none at all. 

Additionally, a so-called “alternative” view seems to imply a bias that has been imposed on the stories that are being published. If someone is presenting a radically opposite view to the mainstream perspective, this means that in some capacity they have already looked at the mainstream view and formed their own opinion opposite to that. Technically, there is no radical view of news. The writer may see a story in a different way that does not appeal to everyone, but that’s still the way they view it and their bias, not necessarily how the actual news is. 

I can see how these new alternative media options are beneficial for those who do not want to have to write within the regulations of a mainstream outlet and its advertisers and sponsors. These independent journalists need alternative publishers who are more likely to accept a story that they wrote that won’t necessarily appeal to a mainstream audience. 

In the end, the biggest problem I see with alternative media is that it is subjective. Something that is alternative and against the mainstream to one person could be completely mainstream to another. Along with that, bias while writing can be extremely difficult to regulate and I think that alternative media can easily become a label writers hide behind in order to get a free pass to express their own biases unchecked.