On 1st June 2017, an article by Robert Booth in the Guardian ran with the headline “DIY political websites: new force shaping the general election debate”. A matter of weeks later, another article, by Nick Robinson headlined with “Alternative news sites waging guerrilla war on BBC”.
These headlines point to the increasing influence of alternative media sources of political information, and that this influence and growth might in some way be shaped by a general disillusionment with mainstream media (MSM). Our project aims to get to the heart of this new genre and to discover how alternative media sites such as the Canary, Westmonster, Breitbart UK, Another Angry Voice and so on report political stories.
The project has three distinct phases. The first phase is a quantitative comparison of how these sites construct their stories and examines the synergies and differences in content, style, tone and presentation. Not only will this phase be able to establish the conventions and protocols being adopted by the various sites, by using a range of different variables, we are examining, among other things, whether the sites use mainly fact and/or comment driven narratives, what sources they rely on, the degree to which they rely MSM for their stories, and what critiques of the MSM if any, they develop.
The second phase across this three-year project will involve interviews with the editors of these sites and the journalists who write for them to find out more about their motivations and professional practices. Finally, the third phase will identify their audiences, and seeks to establish how these sites are received and what influence they are able to exert.
We believe that our project will establish the efficacy of these new media platforms as we seek to determine the contribution they make to the wider democratic process.