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Alternative Media, Collective Intelligence and Social Sustainability

Alternative Media, Collective Intelligence and Social Sustainability


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By Mariola Olcina and Ricard Arís

It is difficult to put an exact date on the appearance of the ‘alternative’ media; some of them are even decades old. At present, the open architecture that some spaces have been acquiring on the Internet and the development of free licenses, makes the emergence of new communication projects easier. This article aims to highlight why alternative media, both pioneering and recent, are a real and ethical alternative to immediate journalism subject to commercial interests.

There is still debate about what to call these media. The label of alternatives could be explained as “the distancing from the hegemonic media model and its political overcoming in the hands of disruptive, anti-systemic and counter-hegemonic policies” [1]. But more important than how to name them is the predetermination with which they have arisen: to democratize information and, therefore, as spaces for organized criticism of capitalism. Remembering the pirate radios that survived censorship broadcasting from international waters, alternative media continue to overcome obstacles of all kinds. The privatization of the radioelectric space and the granting of licenses to the highest bidder by the Administrations are some of them.

In the last year and a half, a good number of communication projects have appeared to offer information that has been silenced due to business or political interests and to restore its dignity to journalism. Thus, in addition to being spaces for the critical rethinking of the media themselves, they are committed to counterinformation to monitor political powers and sanitize democracy.

Collective intelligence

The alternative media see the elaboration of information as something inherent to a community that shares certain ideas and sensibilities. In fact, they are often branded "unobjective" for presenting a clear anti-capitalist ideology. But, the notion that journalism is linked to an ideological community does not imply its discredit, in fact "it can be as valuable as the old model of objectivity, if it is approached with rigor and respect for the truth" [2].


The creation of an alternative medium can take place in different ways: it can be launched by a traditional medium, it can be the initiative of former members of the commercial media, or it can be built by people or groups outside journalism. In reality, these categories are not produced in a stagnant manner, but rather hybrid models in which we can find an interesting mix between journalists –professionals or students– and citizens who decide to go from being mere recipients of information to adopting a more important role. active within the communication process. Thus they become new revolutionary subjects called Emirec [3], where the receiver is also the sender, and vice versa. This collective vision in the construction of alternative media is essential because it empowers citizens and offers a new way, away from lucrative interests, to know what is happening in the world, in addition to recognizing the knowledge or experience of the community that produces it. Likewise, cooperation networks are being created between these alternative media where not only content is shared but synergy materializes by sharing the same purpose. In this context, an agenda setting is established from and for the citizenry, which challenges, in some way, the monopoly of the commercial media.

Social sustainability

It is often said that an alternative medium is not sustainable because it is not "profitable". Normally, an alternative media with anti-capitalist ideology does not rely on a financing model through advertising or accept external donations, so as not to put its independence in question. From this perspective, there would be nothing more to discuss. According to Alfonso Gumucio, few experiences have survived without external support: “Almost all of them have the financial support of civil society institutions,” he says in his book Making Waves: Participatory Communication for Social Change, after verifying that the fifty The experiences portrayed depend on external financial contributions.

But what is profitable? If we start from the idea that the main differentiation between private commercial media and alternative community media is that the latter do not pursue profit-making purposes, but rather cultural and educational purposes, just as important as economic sustainability, there will be other types of sustainability. Alfonso Gumucio adds two more types of sustainability to the equation: institutional, which has to do with the existing legal framework, an important condition for an experience to be developed without censorship and without external pressure. On the other hand, no community communication process can be sustainable if it does not have the support of the community, as has already been said. This third aspect of sustainability consists of representing, both in programming and in information policy, the aspirations of your audience. This will be what guarantees its permanence in time and its consolidation.

The sustainability of an alternative medium goes through the appropriation of the communicational process in all its aspects: organizational, cultural and linguistic, and all this, in a context of strong cultural homogenization. It could be said that community media have a very important role in defending the right to language and culture, and is that profitable? It is impossible to answer this question; Perhaps the question should be: Can culture be priced?

One community, multitude of experiences

Despite the global projection that the fact of being hosted on the Internet provides to a medium, most of them prioritize the development of local content. This does not mean that they neglect the information that is given far from where the specific medium is based, on the contrary. They try to interpret reality from a broad vision of issues, but emphasizing the causes and consequences that the commercial media often treat as something alien. In this sense, the 15M movement can be highlighted as the trigger for the implementation of various participatory communication experiences that address these characteristics.

For example, the newspaper Madrid15M [4], is a communication medium created and financed by the popular assemblies of Madrid, based on a project presented by the Villaverde Assembly. The objective, according to its creators, is to counteract what they consider to be "a vision that is often interested" about the movement. On May 26, 2011 Ágora Sol Radio [5] was born to report on the movement and what was happening in the squares. This radio shows a proud heritage of community radio stations that were already making their way even when the Internet was not a viable alternative for broadcasting content; For this reason, currently, it collaborates with other free radios. And on television, Toma la Tele [6] appears as a space for the union of different groups related to audiovisuals to launch their own television channel.

Another relevant event that has occurred very recently was the closure of the newspaper Público in the midst of the economic crisis, which led to Máspublico, which has ended up becoming La Marea, whose name was chosen by the audience and the workers of the cooperative. The magazine Mongolia [7] also appears, with some collaborators close to Público and a casual way of analyzing reality. In the field of Internet, Karmacracy [8] arises, which is a tool that makes it possible to evaluate the relevance of the links that its users share on social networks in a fun and free way. Also Fixmedia.org, where any citizen can hack into the news value chain to open it to public scrutiny. Thus, anyone can report errors and provide additions to the news of any online site. And these are just a few of the examples, but there are many more. In short, alternative media have the power to build reality, opposing the conventions and representations of traditional media, in an active, critical and, above all, purposeful way. The nature of all these media is to act in a network, with citizens and with each other, and this makes them a social technology that transforms the flow of information into social movements, or what is the same, into active communities.

Ecologist Magazine article, written by Mariola Olcina and Ricard Arís

Notes and references:


Video: What is Collective Intelligence? (June 2022).


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