Most journalism is dispassionate. Its goal is to inform, educate, and present the news, nothing more or less.
But AlterNet (www.alternet.org) isn’t neutral. According to its mission statement, it aims to “inspire action and advocacy on the environment, human rights, civil liberties, social justice, media, health care issues and more.”
Readers are paying attention. In fact, AlterNet attracts 2.5 million individual viewers monthly. Males are more attracted to it than women apparently, since its audience is 65% men and 35% female.
While some critics lampoon journalists for presenting both sides of a story and accomplishing little by not taking an overt stand on the issues, no one would accuse AlterNet’s writers of neutrality.
Most often the writers take a strong point of view, don’t hold back, and often don’t bother to present the alternative viewpoint.
Often the site recommends certain actions that need to be taken to address a wrong. Most of its articles are written more like op-ed stories in major newspapers that take a strong viewpoint but are still based on facts and research. It could do more in the way of presenting the other side’s viewpoint, but it clearly tries to avoid taking a middle of the road presentation.
Most of AlterNet articles hew to a progressive, liberal viewpoint and rarely, if ever, take a conservative slant. For example, articles have attacked Rupert Murdoch for creating the hacking scandal, exposed right-wingers for exploiting human rights, and rail against the harmful effects of fracking.
AlterNet is organized into these topics: News and Politics, the World, Economy, Rights, Environment, Media & Culture, Living, Activists, Vision and Education. Most stories tackle issues that affect changing the world, showing how politics affects everyday life, alerting readers to the dangers of climate change, and demonstrating what activists can accomplish. Many stories are written originally for the site, but there are also provocative republished articles from publications such as Salon, The Guardian, and Courthouse News.
The site has been especially effective at keeping track of environmental issues, focusing on renewables, solar and wind power, and showing the effects of climate change. It has published a spate of articles about the controversial Keystone Pipeline proposal that President Obama has been considering but still hasn’t reached resolution. Another article, titled, “The 7 States Leading the Change for Clean Energy,” describes the states that are leaders in reducing the use of coal and introducing alternative energy sources.
One article, “Activists Sue Federal Agency for Illegally Withholding Affordable Housing Funds,” explored why a suit was filed against the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It was accused of illegally holding back $283 million in funding to the National Housing Fund. But the story was told mostly from the viewpoint of the non-profit Right to the City Alliance, which filed the suit. The article was informative but could have elicited the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s viewpoint.
Other articles urge the audience or policymakers to consider action. One article by J.D. Gutterplan urges the Justice Department to inaugurate an investigation into the hacking incidents that took place at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. That company was investigated by authorities in the UK but not in the US. It is fact-filled, presents the issues, but operates more like an editorial urging action than just highlighting news.
The titles of AlterNet articles clue readers in on the strong viewpoint. Paul Buchheit’s article, “The 5 Biggest Obscenities of Capitalism Today,” might make critics of capitalism smile.
Articles that don’t focus on civil liberties, human rights violation, or inequities, are also edifying. Straightforward “trend” stories include: “The 5 Early Warning Signs of Prostate Cancer,” “3 Master’s Degree Programs That Are Worth the Cost,” and “What’s New in Startups.”
AlterNet does an effective job of aggregating the latest progressive articles that keep readers informed. Whether it’s an analysis of the latest TV series on cable or NetFlix, what the Salon critics think about them, or how its independent writers view it, AlterNet presents the most updated views on culture, media, human relationship and politics.
Clearly it’s not for everyone and conservatives may run in the other direction or hit delete, but AlterNet lives up to its name and presents the alternative, progressive view of the news. It also manages to avoid the he said/she said, middle-of-the-road journalism that many millennials disparage.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.