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Between Mainstream and Alternative – Co-orientation in Right-Wing Populist Alternative News Media

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNISA,volume 12021)

Abstract

Alternative news media with a right-wing populist leaning are flourishing. They pitch themselves as opposition to a hegemonically interpreted mainstream news media system. Yet, at the same time, they rely on the so criticized others to justify their own existence. Using a co-orientation framework, the current study asked in how far right-wing populist alternative news media orient themselves towards the mainstream. Using a qualitative content analysis of all 658 websites referenced by a popular right-wing conspiracy-theoretical YouTuber in Germany, we demonstrate that distinct source types were quoted. References ranged from mainstream news media up to ultra-right wing truther blogs. A quantitative examination of the content-analytical categories confirmed significant differences between mainstream news media and right-wing populist blogs, with special interest and alternative news media ranging in between these poles. Alternative news media were overall found to orient themselves stylistically strongly towards the mainstream but less so regarding their content selection. Particularly, the top sources, accounting for over 76% of all references, were mostly rooted in the alternative ultra-right-wing ecosystem. In sum, our analyses showed how stylistic co-orientation is used to build a bridge towards the mainstream while content-related co-orientation towards other ultra-right-wing alternative sources allows for validating one’s own right-wing populist worldview.

Keywords

  • Alternative news media
  • Co-orientation
  • Mainstream news media
  • Qualitative content analysis

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In line with Weischenberg, we understand news as an generic communication of general interest, being both “publicist material and journalistic form of expression [55, p. 17]”. Ideally, news are formulated along professional standards of professional, non-partisan reporting about events without adding own evaluations [ibidem, p. 18] – however, the ideal of “objective truth” has gained substantial critique due to its lack of considerations of aspects such as framing, news selection etc. [ibidem p. 19]. That is not to say that news media do not report in an objective manner, by adhering to quality criteria such as the reliance on at least two sources and the attribution of statements to individuals to formally distinguish between reporter and subject of the report [ibidem p. 22].

  2. 2.

    In line with boyd and Ellison [56] we understand social network sizes as a “set of web-based services that allows individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, (3) view and transverse their list of connections and those made by others within their system (p. 221).”

  3. 3.

    In line with Mudde [22], we understand populism as a ‘thin-centred ideology’ […] that can be easily combined with very different (thin and full) other ideologies (p. 544), for instance ultra-right-wing beliefs, and that can be described along the three dimensions of anti-elitism, the preference for popular sovereignty, and a belief in the homogeneity and virtuousness of “the people” [23]. Following deVreese et al. [24], populist communication is content that transfers these key components via certain messages of frames, often by using a certain set of “presentational style elements” (p. 425), such as relying on emotion-inciting content [25].

  4. 4.

    For a (German) media report, see https://www.ruhrbarone.de/honigmann-geht-wohl-in-den-knast/139765.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the Digital Society research program funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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Correspondence to Lena Frischlich .

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Frischlich, L., Klapproth, J., Brinkschulte, F. (2020). Between Mainstream and Alternative – Co-orientation in Right-Wing Populist Alternative News Media. In: Grimme, C., Preuss, M., Takes, F., Waldherr, A. (eds) Disinformation in Open Online Media. MISDOOM 2019. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 12021. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-39627-5_12

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