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Alternative journalism education in Turkey: a case study of the ‘From School to Newsroom’ (OHO) program

Palgrave Communications volume 3, Article number: 17015 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Alternative media challenges the practices of established mainstream journalism and institutionalised politics. Alternative media presents a radical challenge to the institutionalised and professionalised mainstream media and provides a perspective that is dedicated to notions of social responsibility by replacing the ideology of objectivity with overt advocacy and oppositional practices. As an alternative media platform, the BIA (The Independent Communication Network), is a project that attempts to strengthen the “independent media”, which aims to carry the entire communication process beyond daily news production. Under the program “Okuldan Haber Odasına (OHO)” (From Classroom to Newsroom) arranged by the BIA, academics and professional journalists deliver lectures to journalism students. During this education process, students have the opportunity to observe various media and rights organizations. This study aims to draw attention to the necessity of a critical perspective in journalism education and to discuss how alternative journalism can transform the existing practices, values and ideologies and to illustrate the importance of alternative media in the societies surrounded by capitalist social and economic values. In addition, this article contributes to journalism studies with a discussion of the importance of critical thought in constructing democratic and pluralist perspective in the news media through an education model.

Introduction

It is claimed that journalism is undergoing a fundamental transformation. One of the key reasons for this transformation is the changing nature of technology. The role of journalism is also questioned in terms of its contribution to public sphere. Central characteristics of the Internet in news production such as speed and space, multiplicity and poly-centrality, interactivity and participation constitute the key points in the current news media and journalism studies (see in Fenton, 2010). The radical shifts in journalism occur virtually in every aspect of the gathering, reporting and perception of the news. The central issues that emerge in the media technology change the practices of journalism, development of global journalism, the roles of professional journalists and their identity and the relationship between journalism and democracy. Journalism is collapsing in different places around the world. For instance, monopoly powers are the enemies of journalism. Today, the great crisis in journalism is inherent in a system of private capitalist control over news media as well as advertising sector, which provides the majority of its revenues. In addition, journalism is integrated with the public relations industry (Franklin, 2013; Mcchesney, 2013).

Fenton (2012: 119–120) also points out that the news media underwent many changes in the last decade. Newspaper circulation and readership levels are at lowest of all times. The news is produced and distributed faster than ever before. These changes are related to the marketization, globalization, deregulation and technological transformations. The freedom of the news media is regarded as a key indicator of a democratic society. Neither journalism nor the Internet per se creates democracy. In this context, protecting and enhancing the diversity of media content is becoming vital. As the citizens’ media grows, the dominance of major international news media continues to increase. For constructing a pluralist media environment, the press must be independent from the constraints of the market.

The economics of the media industry is obstacle to the existence of watchdog journalism and the other ideals of the journalism. It is possible that those media empires can use their media outlets to promote a particular political agenda (Croteau et al., 2012). It is necessary to create a new model for journalism education enabling to rethink the priorities and principles of journalism in order to overcome the issues of typical news media. Correia (2012) notes that citizen journalism or participatory journalism is a new alternative way of communication. Since the nature of media industry is driven by economic rationality, it excludes civic requirements supported by the advocates of deliberative democracy. However, the Internet-based news journalism has more potential for public dialogue among citizens. Public-oriented online journalism searches for alternative ways of dealing with citizens and the political system. At this point, it is important to discuss what kind of training is required for effective journalism.

Alternative journalism is a fluid concept, often casually attributed to a wide array of media practices unified only by being different from the so-called mainstream media journalism (Bekken, 2008). Alternative media may be understood as a radical challenge to the professionalized and institutionalized mainstream media. Alternative media privileges a journalism that works closely with the notions of social responsibility and replaces the ideology of objectivity with overt advocacy and oppositional practices (Atton, 2003: 267). According to Atton and Hamilton (2008), alternative journalism is a broad and comparative term which embraces not only a “journalism of politics and empowerment” but also “those of popular culture and the everyday” (p. 4). Furthermore, it is produced “outside the mainstream media institutions and networks” by amateurs “who typically have little or no training or professional qualifications as journalists” (p. 1). In fact, alternative journalists may write their reports as “citizens, members of communities, activists or as fans” (p. 2).

The Independent Communication Network (BIA) is the centrepiece of the IPS Communication Foundation. BIA is an ongoing project which aims to strengthen the “independent media”. BIA aims to carry the communication process beyond the dynamics of daily news production. Throughout the program of “From School to Newsroom (OHO)”, the journalism students are trained by academicians and professional journalists. They visit various media and rights organizations. In this article, the program of OHO is examined as the educational program of BIA, which is an alternative and independent news site in terms of its contributions to journalism education by focusing on the differences between alternative and mainstream journalism. This article aims to discuss how alternative journalism can make changes on the existing journalism practices, values and ideologies. Additionally, it aims to emphasize the importance of alternative media in the societies surrounded by the capitalist social and economic values by drawing specific attention to the necessity of a critical approach in journalism education for developing a democratic and pluralist ethics in the news media. In this study, I have discussed the necessities and elements of critical journalism through the content of OHO program carried out by The Independent Communication Network (BIA) by using descriptive analysis.

Alternative journalism versus mainstream journalism

Mass media have reached a wide audience because of rapidly changing new communication technologies since the late twentieth century. On the other hand, the nature of this expansion and the production of the news include many concepts relating to democracy, social issues and human rights. Whereas the borders of individual freedoms are expanded, the principles of professional journalism are questioned in terms of the requirements of a pluralist democratic society. It is also possible to express this idea as a tension that exists between the rationality of democratic communication and the rationality of news production. New trends emerging in journalism have altered the relationship between news and consumers. The readers have taken the position of journalist and in this way, the new concepts such as alternative media, civic journalism, citizen journalism and peace journalism have been developed. The common concern of these alternative reporting methods is to provide the opportunity of participation for the individual and a variety of communities to the production process of the news and the assessment of their meanings. Media is the most important part of the reproduction of political, ideological and social structure and it moves according to the rules of commodity production. The construction of news framed by the limited public awareness and power relations lacks a critical questioning and an analysis of the dominant ideology which tends to exclude pluralist and egalitarian understanding. This kind of news content fails to focus on economic and social rights and only reproduces neo-liberal ideology.

Understanding the news requires to look at the theoretical approaches related to mass media, the practices of journalism and media-society relations. Curran et al. (1982) have studied the differences between liberal-pluralist and Marxist approaches in the media studies. The mainstream media studies rather focuses on the effects of mass media on the audiences by using empirical methods. Marxist and critical researchers argue that the mass media plays a crucial role in reinforcing the dominant social norms and values that legitimize the existing social system. In the studies of mass communication, the liberal tradition has been characterized by an increasing attention to empirical investigation. Bennett (1982: 27) has indicated that the liberal-pluralist school has positioned the press as the “fourth estate” that plays an important part in the democratic process when constituting a source of information that is independent of the government. The concept of a “fourth estate” refers to the free and open circulation of ideas. As Mullen (2010) also noted, the liberal-pluralist perspective argues that media system is based upon the notion of the “fourth estate”. It means that media serves as a guardian of the public interest and a watchdog for the exercise of power and contributes to the system of checks and balances by being the main elements of a modern democracy. Waisbord (2000) suggests that watchdog journalism requires freedom of press. Autonomy from the state is the cornerstone of the Western liberal tradition of media, which is repeatedly emphasized to justify the privatization of media and reform. The degrees of separation between press and government indicate the level of freedom of press. The separation between the state and the press is certainly necessary for watchdog journalism.

The critical approaches focusing partly on the media ownership and partly on the ideology, text and audience have objected to the liberal-pluralist idea. They argue that mass media reproduces the social inequalities, legitimizes the discourses of political and economic elites and serves the maintenance of existing power relations. Accordingly, the content of mainstream media is consistent with the dominant ideology. The main problem is that who owns and controls the media and sensor critical approaches. The role of media in a democratic society is discussed by encouraging the public participation and pluralism. As Curran (1991) emphasized, the free-market approach excludes social interests from the media which leads to the constriction of ideological and cultural diversity. A democratic media environment is fundamental to the representation of different interests in a society. It should also provide participation of citizens in the public sphere.

Allan (2004: 47) explains two competing perspectives on the role of the news media to create public awareness about social issues, specifically the “liberal pluralist position” as opposed to the “political economy position” which involves several factors pertinent to the larger social context within which journalists engage. The liberal pluralist approach argues that the citizen’s right to freedom of speech is best protected by a market-based mass media structure and the news media represents a fourth estate as a watchdog. According to the liberal pluralists, the news media must carry out the crucial job of contributing to the “system of checks and balances”, which is known to represent all the democratic structures and processes.

Critical media studies have analysed the mass media in terms of its structural aspects. Marxist perspective examines the media industries and their practices of production and pays attention to the economic, corporate, governmental structures to figure out how the mass media operates. Moreover, the messages, ideologies and the representations of different social identities in media are the main issues of these critical approaches with emphasis on cultural perspectives. Cultural perspectives investigate how the media conveys ideologies about the concepts such as class, race, ethnicity, gender and shape cultural attitudes toward different social groups (Ott and Mack 2010: 16–17). In order to understand the role of journalism in a society, the larger picture should be analysed, which is the different dimensions like the media industry, the ownership structure, the media and government relationship and the dominant ideology should be considered. Contemporary journalism faces many challenges ranging from how government regulates the media to how news media depends on political and economic forces.

The central question is that who owns the media. One of the trends in media ownership is its concentration in few hands. Media companies have become a part of much larger corporations. The concentration of media ownership has created some issues in respect of the news as being one of the media contents. Conglomeration has also affected print journalism and created entertained consumers rather than informed citizens. In this context, newspapers have become quite colourful, focusing on the lives of celebrities, and they print sensational stories about dramatic and bizarre happenings. One of the consequences of the concentration of media ownership also led to the homogenization of media content. Another consequence of concentration of media ownership is attaining the power to determine a political agenda. Media empires use the media outlets to promote a specific political discourse. The corporate view has become “our” view, and economical issues or conditions are discussed within the framework of the well-being of national economy. Therefore, the interests of corporate entities are presented to the public as universal values (Croteau and Hoynes, 2014: 43–49).

The political economy perspective is a key to understand the nature of news media. According to Wasko et al. (2011: 1–5), capitalism has become a generalized phenomenon together with globalization. In addition to these developments, the tension between private and public interests has significantly risen and the abuse of power by private organizations has grown unashamedly and become ordinary. Critical approach to political economy is more important for understanding these developments as well as understanding contemporary media and communications. Political economy represents a critical orientation to media studies, which challenge unjust and inequitable systems of power. Garnham (2012: 171–174) highlights that the production and dissemination of mass culture are rooted in the material dimension and offers a new perspective for grasping the relationship between the economic and ideological dimensions of media against reductionist explanations that favour either a simple economic determinism or an ideological autonomy. Mass media is the ideological apparatus of dominant ruling-class either through direct ownership or as in the case of broadcasting the control of the State by ruling class. One of the key features of the mass media within monopoly capitalism has been an exercise of political and ideological domination by means of economic power. The base/superstructure model points out that capitalism has also industrialized the superstructure.

Devereux (2014: 90–110) has argued that the growing concentration of media ownership has in fact resulted in a narrower range of voices in the media setting and highlighted the important concept of public sphere. Diminishing role of the media in public sphere is caused by a greater concentration and conglomeration of the media ownership. Journalism has been transformed into an entertainment and infotainment platform. Audiences have been redefined as consumers rather than citizens. This means that there is no pluralism within media content and the media has built close links and involved with the larger projects of global capitalism. It is difficult to sustain the media as an objective public sphere because of the structure of media ownership. While the primary task of the public sphere is to criticize government policies, the public sphere is already being controlled by the dominant discourse.

Critical approaches like Marxist and other analytical perspectives argue that journalism’s function is essential for social reproduction, not of a society as a whole, but of its dominant groups and classes. From this perspective, the media is regarded as producers of the ideology representing the interests of an elite minority against the subordinate majority like other cultural institutions in a class-based society (Mcnair, 1999: 22). Lull (2015: 39–40) defines the hegemony as a power or dominance that one social group holds over others and argues that social class differences in today’s world are not determined solely by economic factors. Accordingly, ideological influence is crucial for the exercise of social power. Owners and managers of media industries can produce and reproduce contents in favour of their own interests far easier than other social groups because they manage social institutions; thereby the public arena is in control of the dominant ideology. Allan (2004: 80) claims that “The cultural dynamics of hegemony displaces a range of different formulations of a dominant ideology, most of which holds that news discourse be theorized as concealing or masking the true origins of economic antagonisms, that is, their essential basis in the class struggle”.

The most important function of the news media is to contribute to the public sphere. Mcnair (2000: 3–4) also identified the conditions of the changing meaning of public sphere. First, the quantity of what is usually described as “serious” political journalism circulating in the public sphere has steadily declined and its substantive political content has been decreased to the detriment of the democratic process. In the process, the pursuit of interests has replaced the idea of serving the public interest as the driving force of journalism. The result of these pressures has created the concept of infotainment journalism containing entertainment values instead of informational content. Therefore, infotainment journalism attracts the mass audiences since the intellectual level of its content is low and it comprises the discourse of mainstream media markets.

From a Habermasian perspective, the public sphere is conceptualized ideally as a platform where everyone has a right to sit and share ideas with others on any socioeconomic and political issues related to public interest and concern through critical debate (see Moyo, 2009). The notion of public sphere has been determinative to generate a discussion about why journalism is important in a democratic society. However, the realities of a newsroom culture and the capitalist structure have shaped the journalism. As classic liberal approach has suggested, citizens should access to a range of news media to understand what is happening in the world. From the critical perspective, today’s journalism seems to have moved far away from the admittedly idealized concept of public sphere. Barker (2012) specifies two central arguments arguing that the Internet is a tool for consolidating the democracy in social life. The first view puts forward the core principles of public sphere. Accordingly, the Internet provides the dissemination of information and interactive discussions. The second argument claims that the Internet expands the public sphere and opens up new places where the free speech is possible. Freedman (2014: 12) has also emphasized that the concentration of media power is anti-democratic both because it hands definitional, analytical and interpretive power to unelected organizations and undermines the ability of citizens to acquire and exchange the range of information and ideas necessary to take conscious decisions about public life.

Downing (2005) draws attention to the uses of alternative media in global civil society. Social movements and Internet communication create a power of direct on-call information, sharing and reinforcing collective identity on a virtual basis, and summons up collective actions through ideological reassertions and calls to action. As Atton and Hamilton (2008) note, the participation of a vast number of activists and enthusiasts contributes to open-ended and multi-perspective journalism. Alankuş (2009) emphasizes that alternative media is the voice of those who are not represented in the general media and the “others” who do not have a news value in mainstream media. Therefore, the “others” need an “other” media to be the subject of news without any negative situation and incident. She also points out the role of a public sphere created by alternative media and democratic project that takes the antagonistic circumstances of the public sphere into account. Such a public sphere arises from discriminated other, the unequal, the oppressed and those who are prevented from expressing themselves and their position being counter to public gain and negotiation power.

Alternative journalism practices have emerged from the constraints of the pluralist news media. Atton and Hamilton (2008: 125–135) emphasized that alternative media is characterized by its potential for public participation. Compared to the mainstream media being the province of elite, centralized organizations and institutions, alternative journalism offers possibilities for individuals and groups to create their own media “from the periphery”. The term “alternative journalism” is not limited to the reporting of political projects but also involves the radical forms of organizing, development of social movements and individual or collective consciousness. Alternative journalism creates journalists who are working for the interest of their communities and produce news that is relevant to those communities’ interests together with public collaboration and support. The practices of alternative journalism are opposed to the dominant, professionalized media practices, which tend to marginalize or misrepresent the majority of social actors.

Alternative media is often regarded as “radical media” or “citizens’ media” comprising a wide range of media production activities embedded in everyday struggle by communities and individuals (Couldry and Curran, 2003: 7). Fuchs (2010) argues that alternative media that questions dominative society can be regarded as the communicative dimension of the counter-public sphere. Alternative media challenges the dominant capitalist forms of media production, media structures, content, distribution and reception and is characterized by critical perspective and content. In addition, alternative media has the potential to stimulate public debates. Therefore, it is frequently connected to protest movements that make use of these media for information, communication, coordination and cooperation processes. There is oppositional content which forms alternatives to the dominant repressive approaches reflecting the rule of capital, patriarchy, racism, sexism, nationalism and so on. Such content includes oppositional ideas, counter-information and counter-hegemony that represent the voices of excluded social groups.

Alternative media provides the participation of the members of a community in the content-production. “Ordinary people” are given the opportunity to raise their voices and to take responsibility for distributing their ideologies. The mainstream media plays a crucial role for the justification of the dominant forms of public discourse. Alternative media produces non-conformist and counter-hegemonic representations (Bailey et al. 2007: 14–17). Media activism contributes to media democracy by developing dissident thoughts that go beyond established politics. Alternative media aims to create an environment that has liability to the public and to produce a content independent of the ownership and control relationships. For this reason, alternative journalism is crucial to inter-nationalizing the values of democracy.

Critical news literacy and a project of alternative journalism education in turkey: “From Classroom to Newsroom (OHO)”

In this article, I have attempted to analyse the notion of alternative journalism and critical journalism education within the framework of OHO program and benefited from descriptive–interpretive qualitative research method. Thus, I have explained which aspects of the OHO education has framed the requirements and elements of critical journalism education through its schedule. OHO education that is carried out by Bianet has the potential to transform journalism practices of not only alternative media but also mainstream media. Therefore, a critical approach is a vital pre-condition for free media and democratic society beyond the production and ownership structure. First, I have discussed the concept of critical news literacy to comprehend the processes of critical thinking and then analysed the details of OHO program.

Mass media is involved in all aspects of the social life partly because of the on-going technological changes. Media texts reach audiences via different communication tools such as movies, television, newspaper, Internet, video clips and advertisement. In line with these changes, the media plays an important role in people’s ideas, behaviours, opinions and the formation of value judgements. Developments in the fields of technology and media require a critical media literacy to improve the capabilities of students and citizens as active participants in a democratic society (Kellner and Share, 2007). The critical media literacy approach is based on both the critical theories in social research and the critical pedagogy in the field of education. Binark and Bek (2007) argue that a radical approach dealing with the concepts of criticism and citizenship requires an education of media literacy. A harmful content does not only consist of violence and pornography. First of all, it is observed that there are representation issues such as sexism, racism and an incitement to war in the Turkish media. Within the framework of these issues, a new approach needs to be developed. Critical media literacy requires reading a variety of different media contents, affecting the media with an audience’s point of view and subsequent production of media texts.

Critical media literacy gives an opportunity to see the inequalities represented by class, gender and ethnic differences in media, yet mainstream media seems to protect adolescents from the negative influences of media and disregards the injustices reproduced by itself. Kellner and Share (2007: 6–8) set forth four approaches of media education, which are Protectionist approach, media arts education, media literacy movement and critical media literacy. Accordingly, the protectionist approach aims to protect people against the dangers of media manipulation and addiction. The media arts education covers the aesthetic qualities of media. The media literacy movement which has emerged from the United States, contains the skills of access, analysis, evaluation and communication. The fourth approach that is the critical media literacy focuses on ideology critiques and the examination of the politics of the representation like gender, race, class and sexuality. The critical media literacy brings a new perspective to the relationship between ideology, media and capital.

Mclaughlin (1994: 6) argues that critical pedagogy moves beyond the mere description of the status quo and offers “new ways of thought” and new practices that provide students with “new ways of seeing”, and with the goal that they might become empowered to form their challenges in the arena of public life. The point is to widen students’ visions of transformative power to influence all the spheres of society. Thus, this model of education extends the limits of the notion of active citizenship and it questions how the structures of the educational systems are influenced by the mechanisms of inequality that form dominant political, economic and cultural spheres. Apple (2004) points out that the improvement of curriculum is not simply an exercise of class (or patriarchal, radical, heteronormative and so on.) rule. Curriculum and education policies are generally developed within a set of liberal democratic institutions in which non-elite educators, often relying on scientific discourse about the technical efficiency of particular pedagogies over others, can raise their voices. Education includes a hegemonic control and it reproduces important aspects of inequality in the economical field. Education institutions exist through their relations to other more powerful institutions which are combined as to generate structural inequalities of power and in access to resources. According to Binark and Bek (2007: 103), “A citizen who is a critical media literate will read conventions and dominant codes inserted into the circulation of media texts as well as become aware of their roots in everyday life”.

Critical media literacy makes the students aware of the media manipulation and teaches how to use media products in constructive ways. It helps to develop skills that will educate good citizens and will make individuals more motivated and competent participants in social life. Critical media literacy presents an opportunity to develop critical perspective against dominant media meanings, stereotypes, values and ideologies generated by media texts (Kellner and Share, 2007: 372). The media represents the dominant culture as “normal” or standard. Those who live outside of the dominant culture are often framed as the “other”. A way of potentially facilitating transformative learning through greater interaction is to develop a critical media literacy activity by encouraging the students to communicate with others (Tisdell 2008: 61). As Herman (2007: 34) notes, “The media claim to be seeking the truth and serving the public (not corporate and elite) interest. That should be the standard by which we evaluate and criticize them as we seek to reduce the immense gap between their own proclaimed ideal and actual performance”.

The critical media literacy reveals an emerging knowledge of the production process in a capitalist society. It should be provided that the students can think beyond the existing broadcasting structures and practices. In this study, it is argued that critical attitude is the opposite of the hegemonic power. First of all, being a citizen can be accomplished by connecting a critique of the culture with a political-economic analysis. In he first place, critical media literacy requires asking questions about the conflicts and inequalities that lead to the particular representations of different groups and their unequal status. Thus, it will be possible to understand underlying causes of these conflicts and inequalities by asking relevant questions.

The main problem of communication education in Turkey comes from ignoring the different disciplines of communication and media studies. Furthermore, the knowledge is transferred to the students with the understanding of classical pedagogy. This approach leads to the removal of theoretical courses from the curriculum. Communication and media education requires a broad interdisciplinary study agenda and it must embrace all the disciplines of humanities such as sociology, economics and political science. In addition, different theoretical approaches should be taught and the differences between them should be well understood. The students who will work in the media industry in the future must learn all the dynamics of the media in terms of economic, social and political dimensions in order not to be passive actors (Inal, 2007). Like all forms of communication, alternative and activist media responds to the social situations in which they are produced including economic changes and overt or covert repression. At all times, they provide a counter-narrative to the one being told by mainstream media. However, this narrative can be expressed in many different ways depending on the era. Socially marginalized or dissenting groups, subcultures, ethnic minorities and others who inhabit minimal spaces in mainstream cultures may most likely seek out alternative media and want to create their own if it is not present (Waltz, 2005: 4–8).

The Independent Communication Network (BIA) is the centrepiece of the IPS Communication Foundation. BIA aims to improve the “independent media” by four principal activities through the “BIA Editorial Desk”, the “BIA Legal Support Unit”, “BIA Training Programs” and the “Program Production Centre”. Even though the news site is well known both in Turkey and international scale, BIA aims to take the entire communication process beyond its daily news production. The BIA Training Programs provide educational programs for communication employees such as journalists, the editors of local newspapers, radio and television stations, communication students and rights organizations. The various programs attempts to strengthen the local media by emphasizing a considerate approach of politically and ethically responsible journalism, publication and the rights pertaining to journalism. The programs are carried out with the assumption that “educators themselves should be educated”. The results of these programs are presented in a series of books about “journalism education” published by the BIA Library (Independent Communication Network, n.d.). The goal of BIA is to contribute to the concept of journalism focused on rights and to make this concept common. Activities within the scope of the project are composed of the Bianet (BIA) news site, Media Monitoring Reports, “From the Classroom to the Newsroom (OHO) program” and BIA books (IPS Communication Foundation, n.d.).

BIA project, which started out in 1997 as a dream shared by the IPS Communication Foundation, two professional associations, the Chamber of the Union of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), local media organizations and a few academicians in the field of communications, which was realized in 2000 with the support from the EU and included training activities directed to the local media. The principles of BIA, also known as Media Freedom, Independent Journalism Monitoring and The News Network were oriented to inform society about the social and cultural value of information, to monitor and report on the abuse of rights in all fields. The implementation of regulations aimed at broadening the freedom of expression to be able to continue to support and strengthen local media in order to increase the multiplicity of voices and participation in public administration, to inspire higher quality coverage of human’s, women’s and children’s rights in the media and to put in place and further develop standards of journalism and the understanding of professional ethics. Thus, by focusing on this type of journalism, it was hoped that this concept and practice would be discussed in the academic fields and implemented in the mainstream and local media (Alankuş, 2007: 11–13).

The IPS Communication Foundation has carried out OHO program since 2007. The journalist candidates who come from radio-television and various journalism departments of the Turkish and Northern Cyprus communication faculties attend to different workshops and the participants evaluate the front-page news and pictures of mainstream newspapers from the perspective of violation of rights and professional ethic codes. In accordance with the critiques, the students then discuss how a front page could be prepared based on the principle of rights and they develop their own front pages using the news from the mainstream newspapers (Students Learn Rights Journalism, 2008). The students gain an insight into rights journalism and presenting the news in accordance with professional ethical codes. They have the opportunity to meet experienced journalists and visit rights organizations, radio, television and newspaper offices. OHO training is important for the mass media because the journalism candidates get the necessary practice and experience. After 4 years of a university education, the candidates participate in a one-week intensive program which reviews what they have learned. The students develop self-confidence not only to write “good” news but also to apply the rules of “rights-focused news”, a style represented by Bianet and increasingly utilized by communication faculties. They realize that even within the mainstream media, it is not difficult to practice rights journalism (Cakir, 2009).

A total of 257 journalist candidates participated in OHO from 2007 to 2016 (OHO 10. Yılında, 2016). OHO education consists of the following main headings (Okuldan Haber Odasına 2014; Başvuruları Başladı, 2014):

  • Today’s Journalism

  • News Ethics and Peace Journalism

  • Getting to Journalism

  • Journalists’ Personal Rights and Responsibilities

  • Rights Organizations and the Media

  • News is Everywhere

  • Social Media and Journalism

  • Media and Hate Speech

  • Non-mainstream Journalism

  • Data Journalism

  • Alternative News Sources

  • International Media

  • Citizen Journalism

Human rights journalism, gender-based journalism and child-based journalism are the main elements of BIA. The primary aim of the OHO program is to spread the right-based journalism and to open the way for journalist candidates who graduate from communication faculties to utilize their knowledge of rights-based journalism. The syllabus includes topics such as a new direction for journalism, the attitude of the media in the face of human rights violations, the ways of right-based journalism. In addition, the journalist candidates can visit the different media organizations and senior journalists and join to editorial meetings. Finally, they are informed about the problems encountered in the newsroom and how to rewrite the mainstream media texts in the workshop studies. OHO educations help journalist candidates to convert their critical stances to a responsible practice (Alankuş 2013: 27–29).

Under the educations of OHO that is organized annually since 2007, the journalists, communication academics and representatives of rights organizations meet with young journalist candidates. Participants have also the opportunity to discuss the principles of rights-based journalism and how another journalism can exist. Under the program, the discussions and presentations are carried out on journalism, ethics, peace journalism, private benefits of journalists, alternative news sources and citizen journalism. Moreover, meetings are held with women, children, LGBT and human rights organizations (OHO 2016; Başvuruları İçin Son Bir Hafta 2016). In addition, students prepare their multi-media assignments consisting of right-focused news items at the end of the course. Besides, BIA opens a space for investigative reporting practice for communication students and helps to establish a kind of participatory community (Alankuş and Kejanlıoğlu, 2014).

Conclusion

The media constitutes public opinion. Notably, the Internet has created a new public sphere which opens new channels for political communication and public discourse. Today’s mass media has turned into enterprises and commercial businesses, so this structure has a decisive influence over the news and entertainment media. Since all media messages are constructed, they affect the value judgements and different point of views. The existing values of gender, race, social class and lifestyles have become embedded in a television show, a news program, a movie or an advertisement. The production of meaning in the media always occurs within a wider political and economic context so that those with the greatest social power can easily access and manipulate the reproduction of hegemonic forces.

BIA aims to develop the rights-based journalism that advocates following the rights violations and to defend women’s and children’s rights in the news media. Rights-focused reporting, peace journalism, citizens’ media are concepts that BIA has articulated firstly in Turkey and they reflect a critical political understanding against the widespread violation of rights that require a long-term commitment (Alankuş and Kejanlıoğlu, 2014). Critical media literacy constitutes a critique of mainstream approaches to media literacy and a political project for democratic social change. It provides a multi-perspective critical enquiry of media culture involving issues of class, race, gender, sexuality and power and also promotes the establishment of alternative counter-hegemonic media (Kellner and Share, 2007: 9).

Alternative journalism attempts to improve consciousness of social responsibility and social activism ranging from boycotts to social movements and supports independent media outlets. A real democracy is possible by a critical thinking. A comprehensive journalism education should provide a consciousness to discern a conceptual basis for formulating an alternative perspective and to recast prevailing forms of social exclusion which are constructed as the “us” and “them” dichotomies. Alternative journalism, which is supported by critical journalism training and educational materials along with the political community of journalists and scholars, creates a public sphere for counter-public and an agenda for collective issues through political debate among citizens and sparks participation in the public sphere. In addition, it increases the voices of under-represented and disadvantaged social groups and provides an environment to trigger radical democratic transformations in both society and mainstream journalism culture.

This article argues that community media or alternative media create alternatives to mainstream media representations and critical journalism education challenges dominant reporting culture and improves an insight to constitute a counter-public sphere. The curriculum of communication faculties that gives priority to technological information meets the expectations of the market and stands far from a critical position. Therefore, OHO creates a new labour force for the media environment by developing an alternative education approach. The OHO education program is based on “rights journalism” which raises the voice of victims and marginalized individuals/groups of society, and most importantly, it aims to create awareness to construct the news from a different perspective.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article.

Additional information

How to cite this article: Fulya Sen A (2017) Alternative journalism education in Turkey: a case study of the ‘From School to Newsroom’ (OHO) program. Palgrave Communications. 3:17015 doi: 10.1057/palcomms.2017.15.

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  1. Journalism, Firat University, Elazig, Turkey

    • Ayse Fulya Sen

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https://doi.org/10.1057/palcomms.2017.15