Alternative Journalism

Alternative Journalism

How alternative online journalism is contributing to our democracy 

Stack of classic journalism print newspapers
Classic Journalism is facing a crisis

Classic journalism is facing a serious problem: The public’s lack of trust in it. It is certainly not a new challenge, but it seems to have become more serious over the past decade. It appears that not only the lack of high-quality journalism due to low recourses and funding but just as much the sensationalizing and click baiting by professional news organizations have contributed to this. Additionally, many people see the media as nothing more than a business, controlled by the powerful to maximize profit instead of serving as the watchdog over government and corporate authority.

The trust of its audience is the absolute core basis to the functionality of journalism. So how would citizens be able to stay informed and make informed decisions without a trustworthy supplier of news? 

It seems however, that there is hope. Alternative Journalism, especially online has gained a reputation of not only trustworthiness but as the watchdog over government and corporate authority classic journalism was typically seen as. The direct involvement of citizens in content creation and the funding of specific investigations through the public provide for a different approach to journalism itself and the debate of the public sphere in modern democracies. 

Could alternative journalism online provide the platform for informed citizens to debate in the public sphere and monitor state and authority? 

Public Sphere

The concept of the public sphere is based on the theory by Jürgen Habermas. It is a domain within our social life where public opinion can be formed 1. Modern mass media plays a significant role in informing the public and influencing its opinion. “The public” here refers to people in general rather than a particular group with the informed debate within the public sphere providing at least an approach to public opinion.  

The model of the public sphere is certainly idealised. According to Habermas original definition, every participant would have to have access to all information and take part in every debate, which unfortunately is unrealistic. However, the concept shows the importance of a sphere independent of democratic politics and the necessity of access to information to make informed political decisions. Public discussion of private individuals rationalizes the power of governmental institutions and powerful corporations. Journalism is or was seen as the source of information for these debates and as crucial for the existence of a public sphere in general. 

Changes in Journalism

According to J.Y.M. Nip, there are five genres of journalism including traditional and citizen journalism. Traditional journalism refers to the classic understanding of professional journalists who filter through the news, selecting significant events to report on. This model of journalism has dominated the mainstream media so far. Citizen journalism in comparison includes a wide range of contributors or to put it in different terms, those who were formerly described as the audience.  

At the IMPRESS Trust in Journalism Conference in 2018, Chris Elliot, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network and former readers editor at the Guardian explained that “we should stop obsessing about what is a journalist. I think we should be much more thoughtful about what is journalism.”. According to him the contributions of non-conventional journalists to journalism itself is significant. Important to notice here is that not all user-generated, unfiltered content can be described as citizen journalism. Relevant pieces need to include some original work in the form of reporting, analysis or interviewing. 

Thanks to the rapid technological advancements over the past decade and platforms like blogs, Twitter or YouTube, media users are now able to actively participate in content creation and analysis of current events globally and news publication online has grown immensely. Blogs focusing on a variety of themes have surfaced and challenge journalistic practices in a variety of ways 2. One might see citizen journalism as a competition or the opposition to mainstream media, as non-professionals point out regularly inaccurate reporting, close minded views or specific agendas of big news outlets. Maybe this ability comes due to its independence from these corporations. 

Professionals for the most part claim that what tells them apart from non-professionals are the filtering or gatekeeping, the editorial judgement and commitment to ethical codes and professional principles 3. However, the role or the definition of what makes someone a journalist seems to be at change. While newsrooms tended to be non-transparent, new branding strategies implement audiences into content creation and analysis. The internet provides additional interaction as well as more engaging news experiences 4. Still mainly hiring professionals, who completed their undergrads or masters at universities, many outlets also implement comments, guest contributions or even regular columns from citizens, that is, non-professionals. Journalistic content has become more diverse and alternative journalism certainly has made a big contribution in this development and seems to have a significant impact on public discourse. Studies have shown that the relationship between classic journalists and citizen journalism is evolving 5. The merging or cooperation of said could provide a new, effective way for the people to engage with the public sphere. 

This merging is already more common than one might expect, with direct reports from sources and witnesses that are shared online being implemented into news reporting without the necessity of a professional journalist on site. The advantage of this becomes especially obvious in crisis situations where citizens can contribute material informing and warning the public. Not only that, but there has been evidence that the there is a possibility to predict the amount of damage during a natural disaster based on tweets by affected individuals reporting on the events. 

The propaganda model

One tool to understand why one may consume or produce citizen journalism as well as an approach to understanding the political economy of the media industry itself is the ‘Propaganda Model’ by Herman and Chomsky. It states that there are systemic biases within the media industry. The model views private media as business, selling their audiences rather than providing information to said. The filters Herman and Chomsky claim to exist are Ownership of the medium, the medium’s funding sources, sourcing, flak and anti-communist ideology, with the first three being the most important. 

In the case of alternative journalism, there are no huge corporations standing behind the provided information with financial interests dictating a certain agenda in a profit-oriented market. The alleged bias of ownership is not relevant for this type of journalism and some might argue that therefore news from these outlets are able to be more objective, since they do not sacrifice said for the means of maximizing profit.  

Mainstream media outlets rely heavily on advertising revenue. The interests of advertisers or to word it differently, funders according to Herman and Chomsky comes before the reporting of news. News therefore would be nothing more than the filler to source readers to see advertisements. Again, citizen journalism does not rely on funding by advertisers and would therefore not be subject to this filter. While some alternative journalism sources like private investigative operations still rely on funding, they trust in their (potential) readership instead of advertisers. 

The third filter, sourcing, refers to continuous information flow that is necessary to meet the public’s demand for daily news. Herman and Chomsky argue that this demand can only be met by large media businesses and government sectors due to their access to the necessary resources. Through press conferences and statements, the theoretical relationship between the media and government bodies based on this would lead to an uncritical attitude. Since those who participate in citizen or alternative journalism do usually not rely on these official bodies to provide them with information and do not need to meet a demand for daily coverage, this filter has no influence on what can or would be published. 

Independent websites such as MediaLens adopt this propaganda model to analyse and critique media outlets. Established in 2001, MediaLens is questioning the coverage of events and issues by the mainstream media and shows its failure to report with honesty and accuracy. It is financed by donations made by its audience and praised by journalists. Similar outlets include the Free Press, the Independent Media Center or Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

It has to be mentioned here that the Propaganda model has been critiqued by a variety of experts. One argument that has come up explains that the media is not one single entity but a debate and competition between powerful institutions. Other points are made based on the fact that there are significant exposing articles regarding corporations and governments by mainstream media outlets that would not necessarily represent the agenda a profit maximizing business might have. 

Hands holding a mobile phone
Uploading and breaking stories is possible in no time thanks to mobile phones

Advantages and Disatvantages

Alternative journalism certainly has its positives but also a few features that present problems. The big factor that is business or capitalism usually influences news outlets all over the world in their selection of stories and sources. It could be argued that with alternative and especially citizen journalism, this capitalistic filter is non-existent and therefore provides a more open platform for voices, opinions, viewpoints and unrestrained reporting. While as mentioned, a professional journalist might still crowdfund for a specific investigation or an alternative news outlet relies on its subscribed readership to fund their quality long term investigations, the main focus here lies on reporting instead of profit. The new and maybe unique perspectives that are provided by non-professionals can certainly be seen as an advantage as well. However, the lack of professional education and therefore the lack of certain filters necessary to protect the public while informing it can present challenges that do not arise in a professional journalistic environment. While citizen journalists arguably have more autonomy than professionals, the lack of editorial control is obvious. There is a scientific reasoning behind existing codes of conduct and guidelines for reporting on events like suicide that a standard citizen would not be aware of. 

Citizen journalism as the potential of bringing events to the attention of mainstream media. The Oscar Grant shooting in 2009 was filmed by subway passengers on their cellphones. The reaction of the online audience to the unedited video of Frant’s death was huge. While the mainstream media initially passed on the story, they picked up on the event based on the popularity of the videos online 6. This act of active citizen journalism is poof of how significant the influence of this “new” type of journalism is in the public sphere. 


Alternative journalism, referring to journalistic contributions by mainly non-processionals online could provide the public sphere with the means to monitor state as well as corporate authority through informed debate. It contributes significantly to public discussion of democracy through information, reporting or opinion, local or global. Citizen journalism at this point is found not only in private blogs and alternative news sites but finds its way in mainstream news and commercial outlets. 

This merging happens not only through interaction, through comments made into news stories, photos and videos taken by “the public” but also through features by non-professionals as well as the public funding of private investigations by professional journalists. 

Citizen Journalists on this point not only simply contribute as amateurs but develop a significant knowledge base, own press passes and become a crucial part of the news producing community 7. There is a potential of a certain interdependence 8 of big news outlets and citizen reporting that could be used to collectively work towards a functioning public sphere and the monitoring of government bodies. 

Citizen Journalism might have been born out of a trust crisis in the mainstream news media, however with the emergence of new technologies and the implementation of citizen journalism in its traditional counterpart, it is easy to see why one would have an optimistic vision of the future public sphere. 


1 Habermas, J. (1964). The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article. Sara Lennox, Frank Lennox. New German Critique, 3, pp. 49-55. Available at: 

2 Farooq A. Kperogi, F. A. (2011) ‘Cooperation with the corporation? CNN and the hegemonic cooptation of citizen journalism through’, new media & society 13(2), pp. 314–329. doi: 10.1177/1461444810373530. 

3 Örnebring, H. (2013) ‘Anything you can do, I can do better? Professional journalists on citizen journalism in six European countries’, International Communication Gazette, 75(1), pp. 35–53. doi: 10.1177/1748048512461761. 

4 Nah, S., Yamamoto, M., Chung, D. S., Zuercher, R. (2015) ‘Modeling the Adoption and Use of Citizen Journalism by Online Newspapers’, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 92(2), pp. 399-420. doi: 10.1177/1077699015574483. 

5 Canter, L. (2013) ‘The source, the resource and the collaborator: The role of citizen journalism in local UK newspapers’, Journalism, 14(8), pp. 1091–1109. doi: 10.1177/1464884912474203. 

6 Antony, M. G. and Thomas, R. J. (2010) ‘‘This is citizen journalism at its finest’: YouTube and the public sphere in the Oscar Grant shooting incident’, New Media & Society, 12(8), pp. 1280–1296. doi: 10.1177/1461444810362492. 

7 Robinson, S. and DeShano, C. (2011) ‘’Anyone can know’: Citizen journalism and the interpretive community of the mainstream press’, Journalism, 12(8), pp. 963–982. doi: 10.1177/1464884911415973. 

8 Palmer, L. (2013) ‘“iReporting” an Uprising: CNN and Citizen Journalism in Network Culture’, Television & New Media, 14(5), pp. 367–385. doi: 10.1177/1527476412446487. 

Globalisation, the media industry and investigative journalism

The trend of people and companies getting connected on a global level is undeniable. This process of globalisation had a huge influence on our world and especially the modern media industry. Technological developments as well as economic changes in international markets opened possibilities and posed new challenges. Investigative Journalism as an important monitoring instance in democracies was not spared from the influence of this global phenomenon. A discussion on globalisation, the media industry and if investigative journalism as a genre was able to stay irrepressible and viable. 

Globalisation and its Influence on the Media Industry 

Since there is no historical reference to make, it is relatively difficult to define globalisation. However, there are certain characteristics which can be linked to the phenomenon. The intensification of connection is the base on which globalisation was able to arise (Reese, 2010). It is a global phenomenon which is hugely caused due to the technological revolution and offers the possibility of a worldwide marketplace. Competition has risen towards horizontal as well as vertical concentration of companies and institutions which were not able to overcome the challenges a global market proposes are not able to play a significant role in mentioned (Kaul, 2011). In America, only 6 companies produce 90% of the media content consumed. This number fell from 50 companies in 1983. Additionally, the new technologies, especially the internet, challenge national borders and reduce the influence and control of political powers.  

Globalisation has hugely impacted the media industry. While the trend is surely connected to the increased sharing of information, this industry is probably the main reason for the fast expansion of global interconnectedness. Globalisation itself would not be possible without the media (Kaul, 2011). However, the process of globalisation bears favours as well as risks. Concerning the media industry, the risks were especially economical nature. For a presence in the international market, large media groups were created which put the distribution of plural contents at risk. Legal barriers betweenPage Break 

countries are disappearing which is mostly due to the development of international agreements on free trade. The new media technologies are also presenting a challenge to these national limits. However, it is difficult to define when exactly media is global and what makes a Journalist a global one. The term “Global media” usually describes those institutions that have a global influence or are owned by transnational corporations (Hermann & McChesney, 2001). Global media gatekeepers influence the flow of news and information significantly (Reese, 2010) and Opinion leading news media like The New York Times, The Guardian or CNN and BBC have an even bigger influence on news distribution and framing than ever before.  

Journalism today cannot be fully understood apart from globalisation anymore (Reese, 2010). It contributes to the experience of the world as one place and is a key component in the media’s influence on social transformations. While most media in the past were defined by geography – local newspapers growing to national networks – today’s media keeps up with the interconnectedness of the world. While it took days and weeks for news to travel before trains, mail and not to mention the internet, due to today’s technology the public can be informed about an issue in a matter of seconds. But not only the time news take to reach the public shortened, the availability of information increased too. The possibilities to research about an event and to investigate an issue further have grown immensely. Additionally, the global connectedness and especially social media platforms provided the audiences with the possibility to directly contribute to the content they experience (La Porte Alfaro & Sabada, 2001). Through this, differences between content producers and consumers become blurred. 

Since the world is more and more connected by networks of international elites, social networks and more, the international awareness of national events is much higher than ever before. While audiences primarily stick to their national news and most journalists focus on national events, the process of globalisation in the media caused the formation of overlapping networks of communication (Reese, 2010). While Journalists and the frameworks of news media worked around the national values and Page Break 

expectations of the country they were reporting in, through globalisation these borders have been softened (Reese, 2010). International opinions on national events are no rarity anymore and through social networks, like Twitter, every individual has the opportunity to voice an opinion. Interests as well as values from corporations, journalists and the public all influence a debate on a topic which years ago would have been discussed on a national level. These discussions concern entertainment just as much as important topics like the environment or governments and politics. 

Investigative Journalism in the face of Globalisation 

The importance of the role of Journalism, investigative journalism in particular in democracies is undeniable. “The media should monitor the full range of state activity, and fearlessly expose abuses of official authority (Curran, 2005).” Due to this, the media has to be independent of the government. Globalisation with its global market forces seemed to be a serious threat to the watchdog perspective since the potential for corruption enormously increased with the deregulation of the media. Additionally, through advertising the free market generates information-rich media for elites while generating information-poor media for the public (Curran, 2005). It is not that the audience is missing or lack of interest in new information, but the changes in the global market led to a new orientation of many companies based on easier advertising strategies. To reach customers, advertisers today have more responsive possibilities like social networks and don’t rely on classic sources as much anymore (Harding, 2014). However, the global networks forming due to the technological advances of the last decades also gave investigative journalists new material to work with and the genre is able to act as a watchdog for democracies on a different level. As for example, the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who formerly worked for the US Intelligence Community, revealed documents on the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. These were operating outside the limits of the US Constitution and without any public oversight (von Solms & van Heerden, 2015). The information and investigation started global discussions concerning surveillance and state secret services.Page Break 

Since it is usually legally risky, time-consuming and linked to high costs, countries with a weaker economy provide a weaker position for investigative journalism (Stetka & Örnebring, 2013). Investigative Journalism only functions if it is autonomous and accompanied by well-functioning accountability institutions, which is why in countries with a more stable media landscape and stronger public service broadcasting, the development of this required journalistic autonomy was more likely. This, for example, is the case in Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic more than in Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (Stetka & Örnebring, 2013) which are all countries that are legally implemented in the “Western World” but are all post-authoritarian democracies. Also problematic in countries who, even before the globalisation, had relatively resource-weak news organizations due to the lack of advertising markets and a lack of interest in their audiences, is that the rise of global media corporations like BBC or CNN make it even more difficult to sustain investigative journalism. 

Besides the big news corporations who have salaried Journalists, being paid for their investigative work, freelancers are now able to pursue topics which are funded by projects like FIRE, formerly Project Word, who raise funding through contributions from individual donors, or through support from a variety of foundations. Even some companies known for rather feature-like Journalism or simple entertainment are investing in high-quality investigative journalism. Buzzfeed for example, a website which is usually known for clickbait titles and viral videos, built an investigative team of journalists. Articles like the report on Arlena Lindley, a mother being sent to prison for 45 years based on her failure to protect her child from her abusive boyfriend, showed Buzzfeed’s serious and successful attempts to fund high-quality investigative journalism.  

The genre was just as much influenced by new technologies and the global connectedness following the globalisation. An especially important role for Investigative reporting, however, play leaking websites like Cryptome, The Memory Hole or Wikileaks. The possibility to safely leak a secret document through an untraceable service made it easier for whistle-blower or leakers to bring their Page Break 

concerns to the public. For many investigative Journalists, the website has become a valuable source of information which would usually be inaccessible. The page Wikileaks publishes “without regard for political impact, violation of privacy or breach of copyright law (Lynch, 2010).” Problematic is, however, that Wikileaks certainly is a challenge to investigative journalistic practices. Without any editorial control, the website is under no control of the negative and maybe even dangerous impact a document can have on the public. As for example was the website critiqued for heavily violating the personal privacy of individuals with its content (Satter & Michael, 2016). Wikileaks published private medical information as well as social security and credit card numbers. The documents which the website leaks are not always information on governmental missteps, cooperation’s tax evasion or illegal spying activities by certain countries. However, the page was, for example, able to provide governments with important information on economy-damaging practices on tax saving by big companies. After the leaking of the Paradise Papers, a mass data leak of over 13 million secret electronic documents, investigative Journalists were reporting on the papers which burden companies like Apple Inc. with avoiding billions of taxes through offshore accounts. Sixteen countries were able to collect a total of €554.5 million in penalties and unpaid taxes so far (Fitzgibbon & Starkman, 2017). 


Hunter and van Wassenhove claimed that “the decline of the news industry is rooted in a vicious circle of financial leveraging leading to capacity cuts, and then to declines in quality of content, credibility, audiences and revenue streams (2010). However, investigative Journalism proves to be an important check on wrongdoings by individuals as well as governments. It has proven to decline and rise in cycles (Feldstein, 2006), which was independent of the phenomenon of globalisation. Still, globalisation hugely influenced the media and news industry. Through technological developments and the formation of global communication and information sharing networks, Journalism today cannot be understood apart from the phenomenon. Due to economic shifts in the market and media Page Break 

corporations expanding on a global level, the position of investigative journalism is slightly different today and was weakened in certain countries was weakened. Especially post-authoritarian democracies, which would be in need of high-quality investigative work as a watchdog for the democracy, suffer under the pressure of global news corporations. However, globalisation also provides investigative journalists with new possibilities and sources. Especially projects like FIRE who fund freelancing investigative Journalists guarantee the independence from governments as well as from advertising as far as possible. 

While globalisation certainly proposed a set of challenges to Investigative Journalism, the genre was able to sustain and proved itself as resilient and viable. Page Break 


Curran, J., 2005. Mediations of Democracy. s.l.:Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 

Feldstein, M., 2006. A Muckraking Model – Investigative Reporting Cycles in American History. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 1 April, pp. 105-120. 

Fitzgibbon, W. & Starkman, D., 2017. The “Paradise Papers” and the long twilight struggle against offshore secrecy. [Online]  
Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2018]. 

Harding, J., 2014. James Harding: Journalism Today. [Online]  
Available at: 
[Accessed 20 January 2014]. 

Hermann, E. & McChesney, R. W., 2001. Global Media: The new missionaries of global capitalism. Foreign Policy Journal, 1 January.  

Hunter, M. L. & van Wassenhove, L. N., 2010. Disruptive News Technologies: Stakeholder Media and the Future of Watchdog Journalism Business Models. s.l.:INSEAD: Technology & Operations Management. 

Kaul, V., 2011. Globalisation and Media. Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism, 23 December.  

La Porte Alfaro, D. M. T. & Sabada, D. T., 2001. Globalisation of the media industry and possible threats to cultural diversity. s.l.:European Parliament. 

Lynch, L., 2010. “We’re going to crack the world open” – Wikileaks and the future of investigative reporting. s.l.:Taylor & Francis. 

Reese, S. D., 2010. Journalism and Globalization. Sociology Compass, 04 June, pp. 344-353. 

Satter, R. & Michael, M., 2016. Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets. [Online]  
Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2018]. 

Stetka, V. & Örnebring, H., 2013. Investigative Journalism in Central and Eastern Europe: Autonomy, Business Models, and Democratic Roles. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 29 July, Issue 18 (4), pp. 413-435. 

von Solms, S. & van Heerden, R., 2015. The Consequences of Edward Snowden NSA Related Information Disclosures. s.l., 10th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security. 

The Image is always political

When closely observing today’s news media, one will notice that images play a crucial role in news stories and from time to time cause a story on their own without providing any sustainable background information on the actual event. While some obviously convey a political message, others seem to simply serve the audiences entertainment or conveying of information. However, the message behind the image can still be political. This does not only apply to media illustrations. Many images in art, cartoons and entertainment, in general, have a political message or background which is not always obvious to the audience. Visual images play a crucial role in constructing political images and are used to influence the public’s perception of events as well as personalities. 

Information biases in News content 

As mentioned, images play a very important role in contemporary news media. Events, especially political ones, are often staged, aiming for a specific framing during coverage in the media. The frame the media uses while reporting about an issue fundamentally shapes the public’s opinion about it. Especially since the opinion maker medias such as The Guardian, The New York Times or BBC and CNN, influence the reporting of smaller institutions. 

A good example of the staging of political events and the cruciality of images is the coverage and personalization of the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Obama’s white house photographer, Pete Souza, was able to picture the president as an open-minded, hard-working especially sympathetic man, who not only loves his family dedicates his life to the country. Regardless of the fact if this created image corresponds to the truth or not, through his photographs, Pete Souza, invited the public to take the news around their president personally. Audiences are active and everyone who watches mass mediated content “interprets it on the basis of his or her temperament, education, background, and knowledge base (Berger, 2012).” This focus on a personality “encourages a passive spectator attitude amongst the public (Bennett, 1983).” In comparison, pictures of Donald Trump in news coverages are more often disadvantageous, embarrassing or of relatively low quality. Not always, of course, but more often than in the coverage of Obama’s presidency. An ongoing comparison between the former and the current president is their relationship with their wives.  

While Barack and Michelle’s relationship is portrayed harmoniously and relatively independent from political affairs, the marriage of Donald and Melania Trump seems to be a topic of discussion again and again. The news around the couple often even surmounts the coverage of the current event the president is attending. As Lanse Bennet claims, “American news have a tendency to downplay the social, economic or political picture in favour of the human trials, tragedies and triumphs that sit at the surface of events (1983).” Trump, his relationship with his wife and his personality seem to be way Page Break 

more interesting than the actual political events taking place. Still, the images used in the coverage about him serve very specific political purposes.  

While Obama’s presidency wasn’t usually questioned based on his mental health, personality or political skill, the pictures used in coverage on Trumps presidency often suggest him to be unqualified and unorganised. The media, as well as the public, takes Trump’s statements less serious based on the political messages delivered through the imagery in news coverage. While this can be contra productive concerning international affairs or inner political issues, it also prevents the public from panicking when affairs seem to escalate. As for example if Obama would have started an aggressive dialogue with Kim Jong Un, international coverage, as well as audiences, would have reacted more alerted than they did as Trump provoke the North Korean Leader. Pictures that seem to cover personal stories and affairs in news media can certainly be used to direct the public’s opinion on certain topics and events. 

As Stuart Hall claims in his encoding and decoding approach, audiences look for a meaning in an image (1973). However, they are not conscious of decoding a media product. The producers of media content, no matter if it is art, news, cartoons, series or something else, content code their products to give it a meaning. This can be done through a variety of things like camera angles, colour schemes, structure, narratives, and so on. However, audiences decode based on personal experience and values. Just because someone intended to give an image a certain message, that doesn’t mean that an individual who experiences it, decodes it in the meant way. While for example the tidy desk of Obama probably was intended to make him look like a well organised, competent politician, an individual who opposes him already could interpret the image as him not actually conquering any work, unlike Trump at his desk full of papers. The public’s opinion about a person and often about affairs in politics very much depends on the imagery it is confronted with and its decoding and interpretation. 

Images of war and war of images 

Especially important for international politics are the public’s perception of a conflict. Images of war have a huge impact on the audience’s opinion about the conflict, the participating governments and responsible individuals. “Images of war (…) are often treated as spontaneous, powerful and authentic depictions of real events and real human experience (Griffin, 2010)” and audiences want to experience emotion rather than a simple provision of information on the event and determination, pain or Page Break 

suffering of the pictured actors are what influences the viewer (Griffin, 2010). Images, especially photographs have based on their emotional nature a strong influence on the viewer. Politics and Media use imagery to influence the public’s opinion on a conflict and to justify the government’s actions in said conflicts.  

One event for example, through which the American government tried to influence the public’s opinion was the destruction of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos square in 2003. While the statue was first attacked by Iraqi civilians, catching the media’s attention, a unit of the United States Marine Corps then secured the area, contacted journalists and then toppled the statue under great media coverage. The destruction was broadcasted live in the media and appeared on the front pages all over the world. However, accusations about the event being staged arose soon. Time Brown, a Security Analyst who worked on the Public Eye project at the Federation of American Scientist, claimed: “It was not completely stage-managed from Washington, DC but it was not exactly a spontaneous Iraqi operation (2004).” Robert Fisk, however, British Columnist for the independent and Middle East correspondent, defines the destruction of the statue as “the most staged photo opportunity since Iwo Jima (2003).” The event was supposed to mark the symbolic end of the battle of Bagdad and counter a statement in April 2003 of information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf that Iraq was about to win the war and the Americans would “going to surrender or be burned in their tanks (Jones citing Saeed al-Sahhaf, 2008).” It was no coincidence that the event was covered by a lot of Journalists. 

Today, images are key weapons which can be used to gain advantages over an enemy (Swimelar, 2017). They can be used to support national interests and to reinforce actions. As mentioned, especially photographs can have emotional power. This emotional power is the key through which images are able to be used in a “way that images can support particular strategic narrative (Swimelar, 2017).” 

Political criticism in the entertainment industry 

However, images are just as much used by the public to engage in political discussion. Through art, cartoons such as the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons or movies, animations and series, the public is able to criticise and comment on current affairs. Still, the question remains if their audiences again, decode the imagery in the intended way. 

Satirical cartoons are a common way to express critique about current affairs. After the South Korean President Moon Jae-in mentioned Trump as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, people in social networks all over the world announced their opinions. Many newspapers – hard and soft copies – published cartoons which dealt with the topic. Cartoons may seem like an easy way to get the viewer to engage with the political background. However, “even for highly educated readers who are relatively well informed about political events the reading of individual newspaper cartoons poses quite a challenge (Refaie, 2009).” The language used in cartoons can be misunderstood by the viewer as it often adds additionally irony which would not be conveyed by the visual symbols alone. Most political cartoons are meant to suggest a specific opinion to the reader and need a critical discussion (Refaie, 2009). The seemingly amusing drawings certainly have political messages behind them, even if in the first moment, a viewer may only recognize the image as a simple humorous approach.Page Break 

The entertainment industry also often draws from real historical events as inspiration for series, animations and movies. While these media products can be meant to criticise these affairs, audiences often do not experience them as such. The Tv series Star Trek: The Original series, first aired on 08th September 1966. Director Gene Roddenberry implemented elements of the ongoing cold war in the futuristic series while trying to make the show “thoughtful and philosophical, rather than explicitly political (Coll, 2015).” The different parties in the series have significant parallels to the parties engaged in the cold war. Including a charismatic – though for today’s standard very sexist – captain Kirk representing America and a utopian outlook on a privileged status in the Federation of Planets in which poverty, disease and violent conflicts were mostly problems of the past and alien species representing the current enemies of the nation (Coll, 2015). The franchise is still producing new series and movies and the basic conflict between the initial parties is still the same. While audiences experienced the series mostly as an entertaining media product, the political backgrounds in the franchise sparked research and discussions. Even if the director did not intend to criticise governmental actions directly, some interpreted their own views on the series. 


As mentioned, images play a very important role in contemporary society. While not every image is intended to have a political meaning, audiences can still interpret one based on their experience and personal opinion. This certainly can lead to misunderstanding in the communication between producers of media content and the audience. Since audiences for mass media are global today (Berger, 2012), the values content producers use in their product might not be the same for all audiences and therefore lead to criticism on a political level, even if not intended by the producers.  

However, not all images that seem to not have an intended political message are simply misinterpreted by the audience. Especially in the news media and the coverage of seemingly personal details of politicians, images often have hidden political meanings. From staged events like the destruction of the Saddam Hussein statue to photographs comparing the former US President Barack Obama to the current President Donald Trump, images have a huge influence on the public’s opinion on politicians, actions and events.  

Art and cartoons offer an opportunity for the public to engage in political discussion and provoke conversation about current as well as past political events. The problem is that information about politics in our contemporary media environment only comes to those who want it (Shehata, 2013). If an individual is not interested in politics, the broad span of today’s media products gives the opportunity to avoid debates and information. Especially those who usually do not engage in politics are more easily influenced by hidden political messages based on their lack of background information on the ongoing events


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The Medias role in the acknowledgment of the problematic of the environmental crisis

“Climate change is one of the most serious challenges to society (Höijer, 2010, p. 717)”. Ten years ago, the IPCC of the United Nations declared, that in the last ten decades, the increase of temperature on earth is at 0,74° (Höijer, 2010, p. 717). Risks that are identified by world-wide scientific communities include “heavy rains, floods and storms, rising sea-water level, forest fires, fatal heat waves, noxious insects, microbial and fungal diseases, and effects on vegetation and animal life (Höijer, 2010, p. 717).” During the last decade, climate change came into the focus of society through the rising media coverage (Höijer cited Boykoff, 2010, p.717). However, the coverage of climate change varies in different countries (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1034). “The environment beat is a relatively new journalistic field, having emerged in the 1960s, when growing awareness of social and environmental issues spurred the start of the environment movement (Bourassa, et al., 2013).” 

This Document is about how the environmental crisis is covered by the media around the world, takes a look at how the topic is convicted and which role a countries status plays in the way the climate change is handled in their news media. Additionally, it takes a short look at the influence of sceptical voices. It also handles the stylistic patterns used in reporting, and the role of social media concerning the topic climate change. The main statement is that Media plays a crucial role in the acknowledgement of the problematic of the environmental crisis. 

Reporting on the environmental crisis in different countries 

When observing the reporting on climate change in various countries, it is possible to see that “climate change has become headline news in some countries but has received comparatively little coverage in others (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1029)” which has an influence on the public’s awareness of the topic. 

It appears, that climate change moved beyond being an issue only to rich countries (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1029). A Study by Barkemeyer, Figge, Hoepner, Holt, Kraak and Yu has shown, that the 

“quality of a country’s regulatory regime is positively related to levels of media coverage of climate change” and that the “Country-specific unemployment trends are negatively related to levels of media attention to climate change (2017, pp. 1044-1045).” This means, that if the regulatory regime of a country is of higher quality, the climate change is more likely to be a topic in their news and being reported on more frequently. Also, higher unemployment rates are a negative factor. This factor seems to crowd out climate change as a top-class issue in newspapers (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1037). However, neither the degree of how high the risk of climate change related threats is in a country, nor the policy efficacy concerning climate change, are related to the degree of media attention to it. Also, the religious denominations seem to have small but no significant influence on the coverage the environmental crisis (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1046).  Based on the findings of a study by McCombs and Shaw, Mass media influences the publics opinion but also matches it to its audience’s interest (1972, pp. 186-187). The study also showed that that if a topic is covered in the media more frequently, the public regards it as more important which in this case means, that climate change appears as a more important topic to those societies, in which countries news report on the issue more often. 

The attention on climate change in different countries varied during decades (Holt & Backemeyer, 2012, pp. 14-15). Downs theorizes an issue-attention cycle, that influences public attitude and behaviour (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Downs, 2012, p.6-7). Downs explains, that a problem, that is covered by the media, goes through five stages based on the public’s interest and concern. The first stage is the Pre-problem, in which the undesirable condition is without a lot of public attention. Stage two is the alarmed discovery or the euphoric enthusiasm, which is the result of dramatic events of which the public becomes aware. The third stage is the realization of the costs that are acquired to solve the problem. This includes financial costs as well as personal sacrifices. In stage four, the intense interest of the public gradually declines though the wide spreading acceptance of difficulty and costs. The last stage is the post-problem phase in which the interest in the topic falls to a low stage again (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Downs, 2012, p.6-7). This cycle has been considered as applicable to the  

coverage of the environmental crisis in news media (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Dunlap, McComas and Shanahan, 2012, p.6). However, Reiner Grundmann and Mike Scott (2012, p. 232) argue, that the real rise of the climate discourse only began after 2005. This is because of the abrupt growth of attention the topic experienced in the very same year, which is claimed by Grundmann and Scott “attributed to several high-profile interventions from advocates of ambitious climate policies (2012, p. 227)” in 2005. “When elites have consensus, the public follows suit and the issue becomes mainstreamed.  

When elites disagree, polarization occurs, and citizens rely on other indicators (…) to make up their minds (Grundmann & Scott cited Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins 2010, p. 233)”. If a certain topic is addressed by the countries elites, the public regards it as important and the topic becomes mainstream. If elites disagree on that certain topic, society gets polarized and the citizens rely on other sources like political parties or the credibility of the sources to make their opinion. The news media contributes as one of these sources to the public sphere. The phenomenon especially seems to apply to the coverage of the climate change in the USA and is a possible explanation for the low salience on US`s political agenda (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226). Additionally, in the United States sceptical voices have an additional influence (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226). 

Influence of sceptical voices 

Grundmann and Scott point out, that in general, in news reporting concerning the climate change, advocates dominate over sceptical voices (2012, p. 226). This is, based on their study, at least the case in the United States of America, in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. However, the “US press gives nine times more attention to sceptical voices compared to Germany, and four times more than the UK (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226)”. Anyhow, the scepticism on climate change in the United States has a long tradition (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 498). In comparison to before though,  

the “manner in which the scepticism is expressed in US print media has changed (…) (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 508)”. While former coverage was dominated by the denial of the existence of global  

warming and its causes, todays claims focus on needed or unneeded actions to fight climate change (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 508). This form of scepticism is dangerous since it is not easily identifiable as such at first sight (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509). To stop climate change, action needs to be taken immediately and the media giving sceptics a platform to legitimate their claims, could “contribute to the failure to ratify international agreements and hinder the implementation of a national climate change policy in the United States” (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509)”.  

In comparison to the United States and India and Australia, however, an analysis study by Metag, Füchslin and Schäfer, showed that “the German population has the biggest group of Alarmed people (…) (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446)”. The alarmed public seeks for clues in the mass media and speaks about climate change more generally, while doubtful members of the society seek for less information on this issue (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446). 

Beside mainstream media, Climate change denial books as a source for information on the topic, influence opinions on climate change. The books make scientifically inaccurate claims which are “amplified in conservative media and the blogsphere, potentially reaching significant segments of the general public (Dunlap & Jacques, 2013, p. 713).” Regardless of the medium however, the disproportionate coverage of sceptical claims in mass media can lead to the questioning of taking actions against climate change (Boykoff, 2013, p. 811).  

Stylistics in the coverage of climate change 

As Metag, Füchslin and Schäfers claim in their study, informed, concerned and cautious groups of the society have to be addressed differently than doubtful, disengaged or dismissive groups (2015, p. 448).  

Science communication in general is expressed with certain stylistic patterns which serve to enhance the newsworthiness of for example the topic climate change (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 69).  

To engage readers in general, most news outlets try to present the topic as unheard of or surprising with for example new discoveries (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 76).  

Another stylistic pattern are the superlative, comparatives or quantifiers (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 77). The third most found pattern is the factor of lacking time to solve a problem and the impact the problem, for example climate change, has (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 78). Problematic in this context is that “climate change (…) as a phenomenon (…) lacks the required immediacy, and thus salience, for promoting action (Hanson-Easey, et al., 2015, p. 233). The last stylistic pattern Molek-Kosakowska found was the evaluation of positivity and negativity that is used instead of neutrality to engage the readers (2017, p. 79). 

One other possibility to comment on climate change while entertaining the audience is satire (Kalviknes Bore & Reid, 2014, p. 454). The benefit of the usage of satire on the topic of climate change is, that it can promote engagement and give a positive side to climate change instead of just work with shocking representations (Kalviknes Bore & Reid, 2014, pp. 463-468). This means that through satire in the media, the problematic of climate change and the active and positive engagement with it, can communicated. 

The Role of the Internet and Social media  

Additionally, to the traditional forms of print media and the television format, Social media platforms and the Internet in general are important new ways to change politics and the political economy concerning the conversation about nature (Bücher, 2014, p. 726) and to engage the public in a discussion about climate change. An analysis by Veltri and Atanasova showed that the four thematic arrays concerning climate change in posts on the social media platform twitter are “calls for action and awareness of climate change, its consequences and causes, and the policy debate about climate change and energy (2015, p. 732).” People’s attention towards pro-environmental messages is linked  

with their perception of others attention and believing in similar messages (Liao, et al., 2015, p. 55), which means that the connection to others through social media is a possibility to spread to knowledge  

about the problematic concerning climate change.  

As Kalviknes Bore & Reid already determine, satire can help to create a positive engagement with climate change. “Conflict in online discussions of science has the potential to polarize individuals’ perceptions of science (Anderson & Huntington, 2017, p. 598)”. The discussions about climate change, may be susceptible to the use of sarcasm (Anderson & Huntington, 2017, p. 600). On twitter for example, concerning climate change, sarcasm is often used to express a negative thing in a positive term (Anderson & Huntington cited Kunneman et al., 2014; Riloff et al., 2013, p.602). This means, that not only print media or shows can use sarcasm to engange their audience in the topic of climate change, but also it can also made use of this stylistic in online media channels to engage the audience.  


While climate change moved beyond being an issue to rich countries (Holt & Backemeyer, 2012, p. 1029), with higher quality of a regulatory regime in a country, and lower unemployment rates, it is more likely to find climate change as a topic that is frequently covered in their news (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, pp. 1044-1045). Based on the findings of the study by McCombs and Shaw, Mass media influence the publics opinion but also matches it to their audience’s interest (1972, pp. 186-187). In this case their findings show, that climate change appears as a more important topic to those societies, in which countries news report on the issue more often. 

Climate change scepticism is handled different in different countries. Giving the sceptics a platform to engage with the audience however, could “contribute to the failure to ratify international agreements and hinder the implementation of a national climate  

change policy (…) (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509)”. The alarmed public seeks for clues in the mass media and speaks about climate change more generally, while doubtful members of the society seek for less information on this issue (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446). Therefore, the media has to find a way to engage especially these group of the society in the topic og climate change. This could, for example be done through satire, through which the problematic of climate change and the active and positive engagement with it, can be communicated. “Fair, precise, and accurate media coverage of climate science and politics will not be the panacea for challenges associated with anthropogenic climate change (Boykoff, 2013, p. 811)”. However, the media plays an important role in “framing the scientific, economic, social and political dimensions through giving voice to some viewpoints while suppressing others, and legitimating certain truth-claims as reasonable and credible (Anderson, 2009, p. 166).” 

Unfortunately, media firms seek to expand profits in the expanding ecosystem which is why Journalists are challenged with covering climate change in a profitable context to bring it in front of the audience (Gibson, et al., 2015, p. 429). It was failed to connect on a personal level with the audience (Happer & Philo, 2015). Nonetheless, the public’s recognition of a problem is the first step in creating a policy to address it (Saphiro & Park, 2014). 


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