Rainer Freudenthaler, Hartmut Wessler
How alternative are alternative media? Analyzing source and topic diversity in mainstream and alternative online outlets

Digital Journalism, In Press: (publ. online before print)
ISSN: 2167-0811 (print),2167-082X (online)

Alternative outlets can differ in their degree of partisanship, activism, and their opposition to a perceived news “mainstream.” We expect this could lead to diverging contributions to overall news diversity. We assess how mainstream-like, partisan and activist media differ from mainstream reporting concerning migration and refugee policy in Germany. We combine a manual analysis of speaker diversity in 12 mainstream and alternative outlets (N = 1,172 articles) with a computational topic model (N = 34,819 articles) covering 30 outlets to assess topic diversity. Interestingly, we find no significant differences between mainstream and alternative outlets regarding overall speaker diversity. But our data show differences in which parties get cited, and whether outlets focus on experts, civil society speakers, or migrants themselves. While mainstream media offer higher overall topic diversity, alternative media split along the lines of agenda accommodation and more independent agendas of partisan and activist media.