Political Orientation News Sources (WE1S Area of Focus Report)

Report by Jamal Russell

Final Version Created July 2018


Russell, Jamal. “Political Orientation News Sources.” WhatEvery1Says Project, http://we1s.ucsb.edu. July 3, 2018. http://we1s.ucsb.edu/political-orientation-news-sources/.

1. Overview

What is your area(s) of focus?

Sources representing various political orientations, as well as alternative and indie sources.

Why is this area of focus important to the WE1S corpus?

They are important for the corpus because they have to potential to provide insight into how the larger political discourses have shaped opinions toward the humanities over the past 30-40 years, as well as how cultural commentators beyond the mainstream (examples here being the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times) and local newspapers (which themselves may merely be reprinting stories from large newswires such as the Associated Press) understand the issues regarding perceptions of the crisis in the humanities. Understanding how these perspectives are shaped becomes particularly important for later goals of the project, such as using research to formulate means of shaping or talking back to such discourses.

2. Source Scoping Process

How have you been selecting sources for the WE1S corpus? (e.g. collecting from particular databases, using “impact” lists, etc.)

Most of my sources come from the Alternative Press Index; there are other sources that I found with large numbers of alternative and indie zines and newspapers, but I have been prioritizing finding sources that either are already in plain text format, or would be easy to convert into plain text format without too much hassle. Independent Voices is actually a fantastic source for independent papers, with perspectives not only from the usual left-wing alternative sources, but also from former military members and others. However, the sources are in PDF format, which aren’t really useful for us until we develop a good workflow for extracting the text from the document.

Beyond that, I’ve been basing my selections on the presence of the word “humanities” in a source’s archive. While this means that I don’t end up collecting a massive amount of sources, it does mean that there is a better likelihood that the sources I do collect will become a useful part of our main corpus or a prominent subcorpus.

If you are using external lists to guide your selection of sources, include links here and indicate who produced them, for what purpose the list was produced, and any potential bias issues involved.

3. Corpus Representativeness

How representative do you think your corpus is? (“Representativeness” can be interpreted and addressed in a number of ways, so tailor it to be most productive for your area.)

At this point, it’s only representative of left-wing viewpoints from major Anglo-American and Commonwealth countries.

What challenges in achieving representativeness have you encountered?

There are two main issues at hand:

  1. The first concerns an inability to find useful political or alternative/indie sources that can be easily converted to plain text files. This was addressed in the section above, but this mainly affects my ability to collect alternative and independent perspectives. I may end up just adding them to the data sheet just in case we do end up creating a workflow for PDF files (I may have actually planned on doing this and just not gotten around to it).

  2. A lack of archived conservative sources and conversely an overrepresentation of left-wing sources. I believe there are two main reasons for this: the first is that there seemed to be no need for conservative alternative journalism in the same way that there is for left-wing perspectives. Many of the positions that would have historically been understood to be conservative were, in fact, mainstream positions and for the most part did not require the same kinds of outlets that leftist or counterhegemonic positions would in the early- and mid-twentieth century when most of the alternative and independent political materials were being founded (this is only a hypothesis, and would require more research than I have currently done to confirm. I believe that we’ll be able to better confirm or reject this hypothesis in the coming months). This is not to say that there weren’t independent conservative sources, but rather that there may not have been enough of them to be prominently archived in the databases we have been using. The second reason is that most present-day conservative media is not textual media, and is requisitely not archived in databases of journalistic sources and periodicals. Beyond sources such as Breitbart and Fox News (which seemingly have no cultural capital among most academics, and thus aren’t archived in these databases), most conservative sources are talk radio sources, founded in the wake of the FCC’s repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. The transcripts of these radio shows do not end up archived in political or alternative periodical databases because of the difference in media of distribution, and what results is a lack of representation of those sources because of said difference. Achievement of full representativeness on this front would require searching for materials not archived by these databases (there are few to no academic databases of conservative media) and making a concerted effort to add those sources to our corpus.

A more minor problem regarding representativeness is distinguishing between what should be listed under “alternative or indie sources” and what should be listed under “sources representing various political orientations.” As you can see from the language I have been using throughout this report, the distinction between the two can get very slippery at times. While a minor issue, it is something to be addressed in the future.

Provide a tally breakdown of the various facets of sources in your area of focus that WE1S is considering as possible measures of overall corpus “representativeness” (for example, by source or media type, nationality, region, political orientation, identification with specific racial, ethnic, and gender audiences, etc.).

Total sources collected: 32
Total sources recorded in data sheet: 28
Political Orientations:
Leftist: 6
Progressive: 10
Liberal: 6
Center-Left: 3
Undecided/Unmarked: 3
Center-Right: 0
Conservative: 0

4. Reflections

What challenges or difficulties have you encountered in the source selection or collection process? Do you anticipate any challenges emerging from your work going forward?
See suggestions in above sections.

One other challenge for the collection teams will concern their assessment of the political orientation of the sources. I believe that such assessment will be an iterative process (as is much of the project’s collection work), and would suggest that the team assigned to collect political sources take care to read samples from the sources carefully and make any modifications they deem necessary to how I have interpreted the political slant of these sources. This will become especially important for publications (such as LM, for instance) whose political orientation has changed over time; a broad assessment of the general orientation of the publication will be necessary in such a circumstance.

5. Research Scan

Conduct some preliminary research on the questions or challenges that you provided in sections three and four.

Have other scholars reflected on these issues? Are there publications that address these problems? Has research been conducted on how to overcome these challenges or at least acknowledge them productively?

While there isn’t much research pertaining to generalized theories of alternative media, recent work by Marisol Sandoval and Christian Fuchs (2010) reveal interesting directions in the field that may have pertinence to WE1S research goals. They tend to see alternative media as a form of critical media, in that they form in response to dominant discourses and modes of distribution as a way to critique and speak back to those societal forces. This research draws on, among other research initiatives and theoretical perspectives, Habermasian public sphere theory, as well as Nancy Fraser (1990) and others’ commentary on Habermas which emphasizes the importance of multiple public spheres and counterpublics to account for minority perspectives. Such a perspective on alternative media would be useful because it provides a lens through which one can explain the initial proliferation of left-leaning alternative media (in both the early- and mid-twentieth century) as well as the rise of conservative talk radio in the late-1980s (which some scholars conceived as a product of shifts in political discourses around conservativism, free speech, and “liberal media bias” during the Reagan presidency, as Juanita Clogston’s [2016] writings on the history of the Fairness Doctrine’s repeal reveals).
At the very least, this would solve the problems of both how we do or do not differentiate alternative/indie media from political media (as Fuchs and Sandoval see them collapsing into one another fairly often), and how we could frame political movements which led to proliferations of certain types of political media and discourses in the context of our research goals. More research will have to be conducted to truly get a handle on how useful this material will be to the project, however.