Looking in Different Directions. ‘Positionality’ as Core Point of Difference Between Alternative and Mainstream Media. A Case Study: The Environmental Justice Frame

Renée Moernaut

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper


What is alternative media? The concept is often problematized as being oxymoronic. After all, "everything, at some point, is alternative to something else", according to Downing (2001, p. ix). Nevertheless, we try to define 'alternative media' in their divergence from 'mainstream media', based on a literature review. We posit that alternative media can be considered to be 'anti-hegemonic' in three ways: They have a non-commercial and de-institutionalized context which allows them to be radical in terms of content and to adopt a non-hierarchical production process. As such, these media try to enact social change. (Atton, 2002; Downing, 2001; Hamilton, 2000). We conclude, more specifically, that the 'positionality' of sponsors, sources, media producers... is the core point of difference between alternative and mainstream media. 'Positionality' is "a person's location within the larger social formation", which is "key to how people experience, articulate and respond to environmental issues". (Pulido & Pena, 1998, p. 34).

This alternative sphere indeed is a fruitful context for alternative frames, which might counterbalance mainstream views. We demonstrate this based on a case study of the 'alternative' environmental justice frame (Hopke, 2012) - as opposed to the 'mainstream' environmental justice frame - in the coverage of the alternative Flemish website 'DeWereldMorgen'. In a qualitative framing analysis (Entman, 1991; 1993; 2004; Van Gorp, 2006) drawing on tools of discourse analysis (Richardson, 2007; van Dijk, 1988; 1998), we show that the alternative 'positionality' in alternative media feeds into the alternative 'positionality' of agents and patients in their version of the environmental justice frame (the key characteristic of 'environmental justice', according to Pulido and Pena (1998)). We summarize this illustratively introducing an 'alternative ideological square'. (van Dijk, 1998, p. 33).

Although the above draws the image of a Janus figure, with mainstream and alternative media looking opposite directions, we conclude by briefly illustrating the ever changing faces of media: while recent evolutions (like the Internet) blur the mainstream-alternative demarcation, alternative media feed into mainstream coverage and vice versa.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHybridity and the News: Hybrid Forms of Journalism in the 21st Century
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2014
EventHybridity and the News. Hybrid Forms of Journalism in the 21st Century. - VUB Campus Pleinlaan, Brussels, Belgium
Duration: 4 Dec 20145 Dec 2014


OtherHybridity and the News. Hybrid Forms of Journalism in the 21st Century.
OtherThe essence of journalism has never been easy to define, but in the 21st century hybrid forms of news and current affairs journalism seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Therefore, this conference wants to explore different types and aspects of hybridity, not only related to the content that is conveyed, but also to the forms and genres that are applied, and to the practices of creating and experiencing journalism. Several authors have argued that the conventional boundaries between news and entertainment, between public affairs and popular culture, and between factual and fictional modes, have become increasingly porous. Moreover, mainstream media have long lost their monopoly on the news and journalists have integrated the information exchange of the social media in their daily routines. Many journalists do not want to be dependent on news managers and editors and start their own news initiatives.
Internet address


  • Mainstream versus alternative media
  • Positionality
  • Media framing
  • Environmental justice
  • Media


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