Media Interventions

Afterword by Nick Couldry

by Kevin Howley (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook XVI, 430 Pages


This collection of essays, the first book-length treatment of its kind, explicates the concept of «media interventions», which are herein defined as activities and projects that secure, exercise, challenge or acquire media power for tactical and strategic action.
Drawing on insights from media, communication and cultural studies, contributors offer penetrating analyses of media interventions in a variety of social, political, and cultural settings from culture jamming and DIY media to public relations campaigns and reality television shows. In doing so, the volume develops an analytical framework for examining the complex and contradictory operation of media power in contemporary society.
Providing a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the uneven, fluid, and heterogeneous operation of media power, this volume breaks new ground on the theory and practice of media interventions and also contributes to and stimulates the development of a productive line of inquiry into the study of media interventions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Praise for Media Interventions
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables and Figures
  • Preface
  • References
  • Introduction
  • ○ Media Power: From Alternative Media to Media Interventions
  • ○ Benefits, Campaigns, and “Creative Crimes”
  • Benefits.
  • Campaigns.
  • “Creative crimes.”
  • ○ Interventions for Fun and Profit
  • ○ Information Wars
  • Notes
  • References
  • ■ Part I Theory and Practice
  • 1 Newspaper Campaigning in Britain in the Late 1990s
  • ○ The Particularities and Roots of Britain’s Campaigning Newspapers
  • ○ Industry Conditions on the Eve of the GM Food Campaigns
  • ○ The GM Food Campaigns: A Trajectory of Newspaper Engagement
  • ○ Discursive Processes: Translating Secretive Strategic Deliberations Into the Campaign Agenda and Its Justification
  • ○ Discursive Practices: The Functions and Tactics of the Campaign
  • ○ Conceptualizing Newspaper Campaigns and the Exercise of Power
  • References
  • 2 Resources of Belonging: Assessing the Consequences of Media Interventions
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ Literature Review: Belonging, Voice, and Listening
  • Research Methods
  • Planning for the Journalism Training Program
  • ○ The Journalism Training Program
  • ○ Outcomes of the Training Program
  • ○ Conclusions and Implications
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • 3 Media Intervention in the Struggle Over Cityscape
  • ○ Alternative Media
  • ○ Detroit and the Contested Cityscape
  • ○ Audience Empowerment: Interactivity with Texts
  • ○ Audience Empowerment: Geographical Intervention
  • Note
  • References
  • 4 Newsjacking the Media: Video Ambushing and AV Astroturfing
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ Video Ambushing and Newsjacking
  • ○ Scientology and Me—The First Case of Video Ambushing
  • ○ AV Astroturfing and Viral Advertising
  • ○ Authenticity and Intimisation as Strategies and Selling Points
  • ○ Perspectives on AV Astroturfing and Video Ambushing as Communication Tools
  • Notes
  • References
  • ■ Part II Commercial Logics
  • 5 Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fundraising: The Serious Request and Music For Life Radio Telethons, Media, and Citizenship
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ Telethons as Media Interventions
  • ○ Telethons: Citizenship Builders or Crowd Pleasers?
  • Serious Request and Music For Life
  • ○ Method and Sample
  • ○ Results
  • Who participates in these telethons (RQ1)?
  • Why do people participate in these telethons (RQ2)?
  • What are the outcomes of participation in these telethons (RQ3)?
  • ○ Discussion and Conclusion
  • Note
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • 6 Public Service Entertainment: HBO’s Interventions in Politics and Culture
  • ○ Studies of Mainstream Media Interventions
  • ○ HBO: A History of Media Innovation and Intervention
  • ○ Analyzing HBO’s Media Interventions
  • ○ HBO’s HIV/AIDS Media
  • ○ HBO’s Recent Interventions in Politics and Culture
  • ○ Conclusion: Popular Media and Political Activism
  • References
  • 7 How Real Is Too Real? Court TV’s Confessions
  • ○ History of Reality Television Crime Shows
  • ○ Court TV and Reality Television Programming
  • Confessions
  • Confessions as Failed Entertainment
  • Confessions as Surveillance
  • ○ Ramifications for Reality Television Programming
  • Implications for media.
  • Implications for ethics.
  • Implications for society.
  • ○ Conclusion
  • References
  • 8 Mainstream Media Interventions into Global Natural (or Not-So-Natural) Disasters
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ Natural Disasters and the Media: Theoretical Background
  • ○ Critical Discourse Analysis of Natural Disasters
  • ○ Global Natural Disasters: Recurring Logics, Themes, and Patterns
  • Social construction/depoliticization of natural disasters.
  • Media spectacles and the hierarchy of human sufferings.
  • Commodification of human suffering and neoliberal responses.
  • Conflation between humanitarian intervention and military operation.
  • ○ Conclusion
  • References
  • ■ Part III Advocacy and Activism
  • 9 Citizen Journalism—16 Days of Activism in the Streets of Cape Town
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ 16 Days of Activism on the Streets of Cape Town
  • ○ The South African Media Scene
  • ○ Representing ‘the Other’ by Being Close and Personal
  • ○ Active Co-Creators of Content
  • ○ Challenging and Supporting Traditional Journalism
  • ○ Alternative Journalism Feeding the Mainstream Media
  • ○ Conclusion—Possibilities for and Challenges to Activist Journalism
  • Notes
  • References
  • 10 ’Hood Work: Hip-Hop, Media Literacy, and Youth Advocacy
  • ○ Hip-Hop’s Political Interventions
  • ○ ‘Hood Work, Empowerment, and Neoliberalism
  • ○ Policing Media Texts, Monitoring Media Discourse
  • ○ Youth Making Media: Interventions
  • ○ Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 11 Radio and the Irish Language
  • ○ The Irish Language
  • ○ Broadcasting in Minority Languages
  • ○ Radio for the Nation
  • ○ Radio for Native Irish Speakers
  • ○ Radio for Irish Speakers in Dublin
  • ○ Conclusions
  • References
  • Useful Websites
  • 12 “I Mattered and It Mattered”: The Theory and Practice of Media Interventions
  • ○ Literature Review
  • ○ Case Methodology
  • ○ Case—The “Save NOP” Campaign
  • ○ The “Save NOP” Organizing Strategy
  • ○ The “Save NOP” Campaign’s Mediated Intervention(s)
  • ○ Communication and/or Mediated Tactics
  • Online and/or social media.
  • Letter-writing campaigns and canvassing.
  • Lobbying and advocacy.
  • Grassroots events.
  • Constituent involvement.
  • Media outreach.
  • ○ Discussion
  • ○ Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • References
  • ■ Part IV Policy Interventions
  • 13 The Postwar Media Insurgency: Radio Activism from Above and Below
  • ○ The Varieties of Media Activism
  • ○ The Rise of Postwar Media Criticism
  • ○ Satirical Novels
  • ○ Media Criticism Books
  • ○ Varieties of Postwar Media Activism
  • ○ Conclusion
  • References
  • 14 A ‘Media Interventions’ Approach to Understanding Canadian Cultural Policy and Popular Music
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ Framing (Canadian) Cultural Policy
  • ○ Intervening (Successfully) in Canadian Popular Music
  • ○ Cancon to FACTOR in Canadian Music
  • ○ Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 15 Media Activism and Advocacy: Policy Interventions in a Global Context
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ Current Trends in Communication Policy
  • Global governance and civil society.
  • Historical contexts and contemporary challenges of citizen media policy.
  • ○ From Argentina to Iceland: Policy Interventions at National and International Levels
  • Struggles for community media legalization.
  • Interventions into global policy processes: The WSIS case.
  • Freedom of expression in a new media environment.
  • ○ Conditions and Strategies for Policy Change in a Global Governance Context
  • ○ Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 16 Not Necessarily an Intervention: The Pirate Bay and the Case of File-Sharing
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ The Nested Historiography of File-Sharing
  • ○ Dedicated p2p Applications Facilitating Massive Exchange
  • ○ Resilience of p2p as It Remains at the Bottom of the Stack
  • ○ File-Sharing Networks as ‘Alternative’ Distribution Systems
  • ○ Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • ■ Part V Pirates and Provocateurs
  • 17 Critical Video Editing With FLOSS (Free, Libre, Open Source Software): The Deptford.TV Project
  • References
  • Useful Websites
  • 18 Contesting Media Spectacle: Shanzhai Spring Festival Gala as Media Intervention
  • ○ Introduction
  • ○ CCTV Spring Festival Gala as Media Spectacle
  • ○ Shanzhai Economy and Shanzhai Media Culture
  • ○ Shanzhai Spring Festival Gala as Media Intervention
  • ○ Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • 19 Guerrilla Newsfare: Conservative Activism, Stunt Journalism, and Media Power
  • ○ The Journalism of Alternative Media
  • ○ Stunts, Stings, and Hoaxes
  • ○ Guerrilla Newsfare
  • The ACORN takedown.
  • “Punking” Shirley Sherrod.
  • ○ Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 20 Noborder Media: Media/Art Interventions into Border Control by Migrant Justice Movements in France and Germany
  • ○ 1. Kein Mensch Ist Illegal / No One Is Illegal Network and the Deportation Class Campaign (Germany)
  • ○ 2. La Bourse Occupée (Paris, France)
  • ○ 3. Threads, Traces, and Recompositions
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • References
  • Afterword
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

| xi →

Tables and Figures

Figure 0.1 Jon Stewart dubs U.S. Senate Republicans “Worst Responders” for filibustering the 9/11 first-responders bill. Comedy Central

Figure 0.2 Entertainer Jerry Lewis opens the 25th annual MDA Telethon, September 2, 1990. Associated Press

Figure 0.3 TV screens show Rupert Murdoch testifying before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the phone-hacking scandal, July 19, 2011. Associated Press

Figure 0.4 South Korean newspaper features a photograph of Cho Seung-Hui taken from the Virginia Tech gunman’s “press kit.” Associated Press

Table 2.1 Journalism Training Program, 2010.

Table 5.1 Proceeds Throughout the Years (in euro).

Table 5.2 Principal Component Analysis on Reasons for Attending the Event (Flanders and the Netherlands Together).

Table 5.3 Background Variables Influencing Respondent’s Motivations to Attend the Event.

Table 5.4 How Often Did You Contribute Financially to a Cause in the Last Year? (Distribution in Percentages).

Table 5.5 Proportion of Donors for the Telethon Throughout the Different Categories of Donation Behaviour (Percentage of Yes-answers for Each Category).

Table 5.6 Donation Context (Distribution in Percentages). ← xi | Xii →

Figure 12.1 Tent city in Providence, Rhode Island. “There is a solution to homelessness—affordable housing.”

Figure 12.2 State house protest, Providence, Rhode Island. “Which do you want—NOP or tents?”

Table 12.1 Media Intervention Timeline—“Save NOP” Campaign, Jan–May 2010.

Table 12.2 Strategic Practice Paradigm Applied to the Media Arena.

Figure 17.1 Deptford.TV work-flow.

Figure 17.2-17.3 CCTV sniffers.

Figure 17.3 Video still Austrian Surveillance Techno. Captured by the author.

Figure 19.1 Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keefe, and Hannah Giles speaking at the National Press Club, October 21, 2009. Associated Press.

Figure 19.2 Live Action president and founder Lila Rose in a hidden-camera investigation of Planned Parenthood. Live Action.

| xiii →


Writing in the introduction to her edited volume, Digital Media and Democracy, Megan Boler notes that despite the range of activities and projects associated with media interventions, they share a common concern with “challenging and intervening in dominant media structures, and in cutting across modes of distribution with aims of resisting the messages and form of dominant media” (Boler, 2008, p. 26). Boler’s analytical focus on the interventionist strategies and tactics taken up by activists, dissidents, and reform-minded journalists and scholars resonates with our aims here. Nevertheless, an emphasis on “interventions and perspectives outside of a dominant cultural narrative” (Boler, 2008, p. 29) neglects the role corporate and state-sponsored media interventions play in constructing, maintaining, and legitimating this narrative.

In contrast, Media Interventions considers both sides of the equation. That is, while many contributors to this volume concern themselves with “the usual suspects” in alternative media studies—artists, activists, and subordinate groups working for progressive social change—others examine interventions taken up by corporate media, policymakers, and conservative media activists. Doing so, this collection avoids a tendency to view social change communication—often associated with alternative and activist media practice—as a distinct and separate sphere of cultural activity from dominant media culture. Put another way, an exclusive focus on “the weapons of the weak”—while essential to understanding the significance of counterhegemonic cultural practices—nevertheless can lead to a myopic view of contemporary media and cultural politics. Moreover, by attending to media interventions associated with commercial culture, state actors, and right-wing activists, this book circumvents what might usefully, if somewhat harshly, be described as a left-oriented parochialism that limits the descriptive, explanatory, and prescriptive power of alternative media studies. In short, Media ← xiii | xiv → Interventions aims to provide a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the uneven, fluid, and heterogeneous operation of media power.

Equally important, a broad definition of media interventions—one that accounts for change initiatives originating with the state, the market, as well as ideologically disparate elements of civil society—is useful for identifying successful interventionist strategies and tactics. Another aim of this book, therefore, is to encourage activists to be more proactive—to better anticipate opportunities, and create openings for critical intervention. To that end, this collection challenges activists to reconsider a fashionable, but potentially counterproductive, overreliance on tacticality, and instead develop new structures and strategies for collective action (Clark & Van Slyke, 2010). As media scholar, Dorothy Kidd, argues, academics and activists alike must “rethink” their relationship to concentrations of media power: “We need to continue the critique of the mainstream, but we also need to take a greater part in constructing another vision” (Kidd, 1999, p. 114). At the risk of overstating the cultural relevance and political significance of academic labor, scholarly interventions of the sort represented by this book are indispensable for realizing such a vision.

With this in mind, Media Interventions is organized into five sections: “Theory and Practice,” “Commercial Logics,” “Advocacy and Activism,” “Policy Interventions,” and “Pirates and Provocateurs.” Part I, “Theory and Practice,” addresses the theoretical issues and concerns raised by the concept of “media interventions.” Throughout, contributors relate the study of media interventions to notions of media power, and the role of advocacy and activism in securing, exercising, challenging, or acquiring such power. Topics include: newspaper campaigns, alternative media production and dissident communities, journalism training programs, and the interface between user-generated content (UGC) and so-called legacy media organizations.

In Part II, “Commercial Logics,” contributors discuss media interventions associated with commercial culture and corporate media industries. Typically, media interventions are associated with media literacy programs and alternative media organizations that seek to counteract the power and influence of commercial media. However, a more flexible and expansive definition of media intervention considers how and why commercial and corporate interests exercise media power to effect change. For example, popular TV programs such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition manifest the commercial logic of—as well as the communal solidarity engendered by—“mainstream media” interventions. Topics include: telethons and benefits, public service entertainment, reality TV, and network news interventions. ← xiv | xv →

Part III, “Advocacy and Activism,” examines media interventions committed to social justice and community development. Case studies reveal a range of strategies and tactics at work in community organizing and development projects, citizen journalism initiatives, and youth media programs. Featuring essays written by academics and practitioners, this section highlights the relationship between media interventions and notions of identity and empowerment, community and citizenship. Topics include: media education, youth advocacy, citizen journalism, community radio, and social change communication.

Part IV, “Policy Interventions,” features historical and contemporary case studies of interventions emanating from the state, industry, and elements of civil society. Throughout, contributors evaluate the efficacy of media interventions aimed at reforming or alerting media structures and performance, as well as state and industry-sponsored efforts to maintain or consolidate media power. Topics include: media reform, cultural policy, file-sharing services, and grassroots activism in international policy arenas.

Part V, “Pirates and Provocateurs,” examines activist and artistic practices that challenge, subvert, or exploit dominant media routines, structures, and discourses. Contributors analyze interventions that (re)produce or (re)purpose media discourses, texts, and technologies to achieve discrete political objectives, and for purposes of cultural resistance and critique. Throughout, contributors examine practices of appropriation, remixing, and other aspects of participatory culture that challenge copyright and intellectual property law, contemporary journalistic standards and practices, as well as regimes of corporate-state surveillance. Topics include: “open source” initiatives, stunt journalism, as well as dissident art and media activism.

Each section begins with a brief introduction that situates individual chapters within a broader thematic framework. In what follows, contributors offer penetrating analyses of media interventions in a variety of social, political, and cultural settings. Doing so, they examine the diffuse nature of media power in an era marked by unprecedented industry consolidation, the emergence of DIY culture, and the advent of networked communication. Making no claims to comprehensiveness, our more modest aim is to develop an analytical framework for examining the complex and contradictory operation of media power in contemporary society. We hope this volume contributes to, and stimulates the development of, a productive line of inquiry into the study of media interventions. Our investigation begins with a general introduction that explicates the concept of media interventions, followed by a thematic survey of interventionist practice.

Kevin Howley ← xv | xvi →


Boler, M. (2008). Introduction. In M. Boler (Ed.), Digital media and democracy: Tactics in hard times (pp. 1–50). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Clark, J., & Van Slyke, T. (2010). Beyond the echo chamber: Reshaping politics through networked progressive media. New York, NY: New Press.

Kidd, D. (1999). The value of alternative media. Peace Review, 11(1), 113–119.

| 1 →


Kevin Howley

On December 16, 2010, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central’s popular satirical news program, took on an uncharacteristically somber tone. In a departure from the show’s usual format, Stewart devoted the entire telecast to a single topic: the so-called 9/11 first-responders bill. Formally known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the measure would cover medical expenses for rescue workers with chronic health problems related to dust and smoke inhalation on “the pile” in the days and weeks following September 11, 2001.1 Months earlier, the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives. But as the 111th Congress prepared to adjourn for the year, Republicans in the U.S. Senate were blocking a vote on the measure. Stewart censured “the party that turned 9/11 into a catchphrase” for callous disregard of the health and well-being of New York City’s first responders—the firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers who they hailed as heroes in the wake of the terrorist attack. Stewart’s scorn was not reserved for Senate Republicans. The late-night satirist also delivered a withering critique of the U.S. press corps’ indifference to a legislative logjam that would deny health benefits to ailing rescue workers. An incredulous Stewart noted that Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, was giving the 9/11 first-responders bill more airtime than American news outlets: “Our networks were scooped with a sympathetic Zadroga bill story by the same network Osama bin Laden sends his mix-tapes to!”

Six days after Stewart berated the news media and dubbed Republicans, “Worst Responders,” the U.S. Senate unexpectedly passed the $4.3 billion Zadroga bill. Advocates of the bill, elected officials, and news workers all credited Stewart for this sudden and dramatic turn of events. Ken Specht, one of four first responders ← 1 | 2 → who appeared on The Daily Show, told reporters, “I’ll forever be indebted to Jon because of what he did.” In a written statement, New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said,

Success has a thousand fathers, but Jon shining such a big, bright spotlight on Washington’s potentially tragic failure to put aside differences and get this done for America was, without a doubt, one of the biggest factors that led to the final agreement. (Quoted in Carter & Stelter, 2010)

Echoing Bloomberg’s assessment, NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro (2010) noted: “It was half the size of the bill that Democrats wanted, but the fact that it passed at all seemed unthinkable just a short time ago.” The foreign press also took note of Stewart’s unprecedented influence in the rarefied setting of the U.S. Senate. Writing in Britain’s The Independent newspaper, Guy Adams (2010) claimed that Stewart had “scored a signal victory against Republican members of the highest legislative body of the most powerful nation on earth.” Even the über-conservative, Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post expressed gratitude to Jon Stewart for championing the first-responders bill.

Although he might balk at such a characterization, it is fair to say that Jon Stewart’s intervention was a game changer. By shaming Republican senators for their intransigence, and goading U.S. news outlets to cover the story, Stewart galvanized public support for the bill, and broke the GOP filibuster to win Senate approval of the measure. For some, Stewart’s advocacy on behalf of 9/11 first responders was reminiscent of two distinguished figures in the history of American television news: Edward R. Murrow, the legendary broadcaster who debunked Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist demagoguery; and Walter Cronkite, whose editorial opposition to the Vietnam War convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that public support for the war was irretrievably lost. While the comparison between Stewart and the two CBS News veterans is emotionally appealing, it is intellectually unsatisfying. Such comparisons evoke nostalgia for some mythic “golden age” of television journalism. More to the point, whereas Murrow and Cronkite clearly saw themselves as professional journalists, Jon Stewart insists he is—in the first and last instance—a comedian (D’Alessandro, 2011). Therein lies one of the more revealing indications of the shifting dynamics of media power in the 21st century. As The New York Times observed soon after the Zadroga bill became law, “comedy on television, more than journalism on television, may be the most effective outlet for stirring debate and effecting change in public policy” (Carter & Stelter, 2010).

This episode is instructive for several reasons. To begin with, Stewart’s advocacy on behalf of New York City’s first responders demonstrates the influence of celebrity on public opinion—and elite consensus, for that matter. Indeed, Stewart’s ← 2 | 3 → campaign underscores the tangible political value of interventions aimed at redirecting public debate and interceding in legislative processes. Furthermore, Stewart’s critique of U.S. press performance illustrates the strategic importance of “working the refs” (i.e., newsworkers) when critical policy debates are ignored, trivialized, or otherwise go unreported. In short, Stewart’s intervention reveals the complex operation of media power at work in satirical news programs (Boler, 2008; Meikle, 2009). That said, the argument advanced throughout this book suggests that Stewart’s legislative coup was a dramatic and astonishingly successful example of a far more prosaic set of cultural practices. Put differently, media interventions of the sort exemplified by Jon Stewart’s campaign for the Zadroga bill are an increasingly common feature of media culture.

From public health campaigns and media literacy programs to development communication projects, media interventions exercise symbolic power to effect change. For instance, smoking cessation and HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are common and altogether familiar forms of media intervention designed to alter individual and public health attitudes and behaviors (see, for example, Abroms & Maibach, 2008; Romer et al., 2009). Likewise, media literacy projects aimed at influencing audience interpretation, and use of media texts and technologies are popular in formal as well as informal educational settings (Potter, 2010). And since the late 1940s, international aid organizations and NGOs have established participatory communication projects geared toward social and economic development in poor and disadvantaged communities around the world (Gumico Dagron, 2001). As these brief illustrations suggest, media interventions are typically associated with development, pedagogical, and public health initiatives targeting marginalized or at-risk populations.

But as our Daily Show example demonstrates, this change orientation can also target powerful institutional structures and players, such as lawmakers and news organizations, to achieve discrete political aims. Conversely, Stewart’s intervention reveals that the same media conglomerates that produce, distribute, and profit (handsomely) from commercial culture routinely intervene in social life and political processes. In this light, it would be a mistake to view Stewart’s media intervention—originating as it did from within corporate media culture—as an isolated incident. Without putting too fine a point on it, all manner of media-directed practices—from telethons and tactical media to policy interventions and public relations campaigns—intercede in events, mobilize collective action, and otherwise precipitate change. And yet, despite the pervasive character of these practices, the concept of “media interventions” remains somewhat elusive and theoretically underdeveloped.2 This situation has significant practical and theoretical implications. On a practical level, conceptual muddiness inhibits the effective, ← 3 | 4 → if not the ethical, use of media interventions to influence individual behaviors and cognition, promote public knowledge and awareness, and realize discrete social or political goals. From a theoretical perspective, narrow or vague definitions of what we might mean by “media interventions” limit our ability to fully comprehend and appreciate the operation of media power in contemporary society.

All of this becomes apparent in the realm of digital and online communication. At the height of the network era, when a handful of broadcasters literally and figuratively commanded the attention of whole populations, opportunities for using media texts and technologies to “talk back to the media”—let alone redirect public debate or instigate mass mobilizations—were rare, restricted, and often of limited political efficacy (Gitlin, 1980). In contrast, today’s digital, interactive media space is a far more expansive, inclusive, and porous field of action: one in which artists and educators, performers and activists, political operatives and guerrilla marketers regularly exercise media power “to intervene in the course of events, to influence the actions of others and indeed to create events, by means of the production and transmission of symbolic forms” (Thompson, 1995, p. 17). Although a good deal of this work is intended to bypass dominant media institutions, media interventions oftentimes insinuate social change messages into mainstream media discourse. By the same token, activists, agitators, and subaltern groups use the same tools and techniques transnational corporations and nation-states employ when they exercise media power to achieve strategic objectives or gain tactical advantage. ← 4 | 5 →

The first book-length treatment of its kind, Media Interventions explicates this concept: herein defined as activities and projects that secure, exercise, challenge, or acquire media power for tactical and strategic action. Drawing on insights from media, communication, and cultural studies, this book surveys media interventions—from citizen journalism and DIY (do it yourself) media to network newscasts and state-sponsored entertainment spectacles. Featuring original contributions from veteran researchers, scholar/activists, and up-and-coming voices in the academy, this volume attempts to break new ground in the theory and practice of media interventions. In doing so, this collection offers fresh insights into contemporary media and cultural politics. More boldly, perhaps, this book constitutes an intervention of sorts—one that aims to stimulate new lines of inquiry for media and communication studies in the 21st century.

Figure 0.1: Jon Stewart dubs U.S. Senate Republicans “Worst Responders” for filibustering the 9/11 first-responders bill. Comedy Central

This introduction proceeds by situating the concept of media interventions in relation to extant scholarship on alternative media, media activism, and media power. In doing so, this discussion develops a conceptual framework for identifying and analyzing media interventions. As we shall see, this analytical focus on interventionist strategies and tactics is significant insofar as it responds to recent calls for theorizing media as practice (Couldry, 2004). Throughout, we consider how, why, and to what ends individuals and groups—from across the ideological spectrum and with varying degrees of social, economic, and cultural capital—take up media interventions.

Media Power: From Alternative Media to Media Interventions

Scholar and journalist Mitzi Waltz (2005) observes that the field of media studies concentrates its efforts on dominant media institutions and texts. This analytical focus is unsurprising, given the ubiquitous nature of information and entertainment programming produced by corporate media giants such as Disney, News Corporation, Time Warner, and Viacom. Nevertheless, in recent years burgeoning interest in the study of alternative media has generated productive insights into the relationship between media, democracy, and cultural as well as political citizenship; insights which are broadly relevant to the fields of communication and cultural studies, journalism, political economy, and sociology (Atton, 2002; Lievrouw, 2011; Rodriguez, Kidd, & Stein, 2010).

For Waltz (2005), alternative and activist media are best understood in critical relation to the concentration of media ownership and control. “Either despite this situation or because of it,” Waltz argues, “alternative and activist media ← 5 | 6 → remain, opening cracks in the mass media monolith” (p. viii). Nick Couldry (2002) argues along similar lines when he defines alternative media in terms of “practices of symbolic production which contest (in some way) media power itself—that is, the concentration of symbolic power in media institutions” (p. 25). With its attention to challenging and confronting concentrations of media power, this line of thinking serves as a useful starting point for developing an analytical framework for the study of media interventions.

Waltz’s (2005) emphasis on ruptures within dominant media culture—what Clemencia Rodríguez (2001) describes in her international study of citizens’ media as “fissures in the mediascape”—suggests that alternative and activist media exploit opportunities, and create openings to challenge mainstream media. Whether these opportunities and openings are a consequence of the contradictory forces that shape dominant media institutions and practices, or if these spaces are purposefully established—either through direct action or government mandate—the provision of communication and information resources to underserved populations and marginalized groups constitutes an intervention into the “hegemonic mainstream” (Waltz, 2005, p. viii).

Dorothy Kidd (1999) makes a related argument when she speaks of alternative media’s role as “unofficial opposition to mainstream media” (p. 113). Like Waltz, Kidd emphasizes the change orientation of alternative media. Kidd elaborates on this by deconstructing the word alternative.3 The first part of the word—“alter”—highlights the use of media to change prevailing social relations and conditions. Accordingly, Kidd asserts, “Alternative media are valuable to the communities they serve when they advocate and work for change in the communities and the larger society” (p. 114). The implicit assumption here—one that informs theories of persuasion and the press, development and health communication, as well as alternative and activist media—is that media can be a powerful agent of change. Kidd further suggests that by offering visions of a more just and equitable society, alternative media play a crucial role in political mobilization and the formation of counterpublics at the local, national, and transnational levels. In this respect, Kidd’s ideas about alternative media align with John Downing’s (2000) analysis of “radical alternative media.” In short, an emphasis on media’s transformative potential is a fundamental concern of alternative and activist media studies.

The second part of the word alternative—“native”—is less well observed in the literature on alternative and activist media as such. Kidd’s emphasis on the social value and cultural significance of native media production is more commonly associated with scholarship on “ethnic minority” and especially “indigenous media” (Browne, 1996; Daley & James, 2004). Nevertheless, with its attention ← 6 | 7 → to local populations producing media that preserve shared histories, articulate common interests, and otherwise serve culturally or geographically defined communities, Kidd’s approach to alternative media has informed recent thinking about community media as well (Howley, 2005). One advantage to this perspective is that it underscores the fact that while media are frequently agents of social change, media technologies, texts, and practices are just as often the object of change.4 In other words, the institutional structures and arrangements between media industries and other sectors of the economy, for example, or between media producers and media audiences are, to borrow Deirdre Boyle’s (1997) phrase, “subject to change.” For instance, in her analysis of community-based solutions to media racism in Sydney, Australia, Tanja Dreher (2010) uses the phrase “community media intervention” to capture a range of “activities and projects developed by people working with communities subjected to racism in order to alter or speak back to mainstream news media” (p. 86).

Viewed in this light, community media are emblematic of interventions designed to reform the media—in both senses of that word. On the one hand, by providing local communities with access to the tools of media production and distribution, community media quite literally reconfigure the relationship between audiences and producers (Fairchild, 2010; Forde, Foxwell, & Meadows, 2003; see also Chapter 3 by Joshua Atkinson and Clayton Rosati in this volume). With its hyper-local focus; innovative repurposing of TV antennas, receivers, and recorders; and a knack for computer networking, the Italian Telestreet movement is a vivid example of precisely this facet of community media (Ardizzoni, 2009). On the other hand, affiliate organizations, such as the Alliance for Community Media (US), the Community Media Association (UK), and the transnational Community Media Forum Europe, are in the vanguard of efforts to reform, enhance, or develop whole sectors of the media system through policy interventions (Johnson & Menichelli, 2007; Milan, 2010; see also Chapter 15 by Arne Hintz in this volume). In recent years, community media activists have worked closely with other elements of global civil society—including environmental, labor, and human rights organizations—to take up the case of structural media reform in the context of broader advocacy for “communication rights” (Calabrese, 2004).

For our purposes, these reformist impulses are noteworthy insofar as they avoid an analytical focus that might be described as “production-centric.” Put differently, media activism is neither limited to, nor coterminous with, alternative and activist media production. Carroll and Hackett (2006) capture the breadth and scope of what they refer to as “democratic media activism,” when they note, “Some activist groups address the state with agendas for institutional reform, ← 7 | 8 → some produce media or try to cultivate more critical audiences, some monitor, critique or intervene in corporate media in efforts to change media frames” (p. 86). In other words, citizens’ groups, health care professionals, political operatives, and others routinely engage media power outside the context of media production and distribution. From monitoring press performance and lobbying for more (or less) government regulation, to orchestrating campaigns directed at specific media institutions, texts, and personalities, media interventions are not exclusively or even principally based on the production and distribution of media texts. With this in mind, contributors to this volume adopt a broad definition of the phrase “media intervention,” one that accommodates discursive, pedagogical, and policy-oriented change initiatives. In short, the concept of media interventions is useful for interrogating this “variegated, even chaotic, field of collective action” (Carroll & Hackett, 2006, p. 86).

Two corresponding, yet ideologically opposed, media monitoring organizations illustrate this point. For instance, the self-described media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has documented inaccuracies, censorship, and bias in U.S. news media for over a quarter century. To that end, FAIR produces Extra!, a monthly magazine; CounterSpin, a weekly radio program; and frequently issues electronic “media advisories” on press failures, communication policy debates, and such. Doing so, FAIR aims “to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints” (FAIR, n.d.). Thus, cultural production is integral to the broader strategic goals of holding reporters and news organizations to account, and promoting journalism in the public interest.

Another watchdog group, Accuracy In Media (AIM), is equally committed to uncovering instances of press failures, abuses, and biases. AIM describes itself as “a non-profit, grassroots citizens watchdog of the news media that critiques botched and bungled news stories and sets the record straight on important issues that have received slanted coverage” (AIM, n.d.). Whereas FAIR is unapologetic about its progressive politics, AIM operates within a decidedly conservative ideological framework. Despite profound ideological differences, both FAIR and AIM regularly intervene in contemporary journalistic practice. Moreover, both organizations publicize their efforts through traditional as well as new media channels. AIM has proven especially effective at leveling charges of liberal bias against influential media outlets, such as The New York Times and NBC News—allegations that have gained considerable traction in American media and political discourse over the past 30 years (Alterman, 2003). ← 8 | 9 →

All of this underscores an important point: media interventions are neither the purview of progressive nor conservative cultural politics. Rather, they emerge from across the ideological spectrum—a line of inquiry Brandon Butler and I pursue in Chapter 19. Furthermore, in each instance we find a critical engagement not only with media texts and technologies, but also with the rules and regulations, norms and practices that shape and define contemporary media culture. Thus, our understanding of media intervention should not be limited to a concern with production contexts and textual strategies; rather, media interventions encompass a range of media-related practices, including legal and judicial initiatives targeting regulatory structures and mechanisms. The U.S.-based Prometheus Radio Project exemplifies the efficacy of such strategic initiatives. A leader in the Low Power FM (LPFM) movement, Prometheus provides communities with legal, logistic, and technical support to establish local, noncommercial broadcasting services. Equally important, the Prometheus Radio Project is active in legislative and judicial processes related to communication policy. For instance, Prometheus was the lead plaintiff in a landmark court case that successfully challenged the Federal Communication Commission’s 2003 change in media ownership rules—a change that would have enabled further corporate consolidation of the nation’s airwaves (Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, 2004).


XVI, 430
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (March)
power action communication concept
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 430 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Kevin Howley (Volume editor)

Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. His research and teaching interests include the political economy of communication, cultural politics, and the sociology of media and popular culture. His work has appeared in the Journal of Radio Studies, Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism, Television and New Media, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, and Social Movement Studies. He is author of Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies (2005) and editor of Understanding Community Media (2010).


Title: Media Interventions
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450 pages