Queer Theory, Media Studies, and Editorial Processes in Queer Student Media

Jessica Rodgers, 1st December 2012


Australian queer (GLBTIQ) university student activist media is an important site of self-representation. Community media is a significant site for the development of queer identity, community and a key part of queer politics. This paper reviews my research into queer student media, which is grounded in a queer theoretical perspective. Rob Cover argues that queer theoretical approaches that study media products fail to consider the material contexts that contribute to their construction. I use an ethnographic approach to examine how editors construct queer identity and community in queer student media. My research contributes to queer media scholarship by addressing the gap that Cover identifies, and to the rich scholarship on negotiations of queer community.



Queer students are an important aspect of Australian tertiary communities. Many Australian tertiary student activists identify as queer. Institutionally, there are a number of organisations and tools for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and 'otherwise queer identifying' (GLBTIQ) students. There is a National Union of Students (NUS) queer department, two NUS queer officers, a NUS queer mailing list, an annual NUS queer student conference (Queer Collaborations), queer departments and officers in student unions across Australia, designated queer spaces in Australian universities and dozens of queer student publications. There is a considerable amount of research which investigates queer youth organising in universities and high schools, or the institutional structures that support them (See for example, Gose 1996; Abes and Jones 2004; Rankin 2004; Clark 2005; Poynter and Washington 2005; Ryan 2005; Sanlo 2005; Abes, Jones and McEwan 2007; and the two edited collections of Evans and Wall 1991 and Sanlo, Rankin and Schoenberg 2002). However, Australian queer students are virtually unstudied.

Queer student media is a clear example of minority media that can contribute to the constitution of community and identity. For through such media a community works to define itself, thus making it a rich site for the study of community understandings. The strong presence of Australian student queer activism in universities also signifies that queer student activist media is worthy of investigation. This research enables queer student activism to be better understood.

This article is located in a body of historical work that documents formations of queerness (see for example, Katz 1977; Adam 1995; Willett 2000; Jennings 2007; Driver 2008). More specifically, this research contributes to a body of  literature on the negotiations of queer, queer identity and queer community by individuals, communities and activists of non-normative sexes, genders, and sexualities (Warner 1991; Berlant and Freeman 1992; Gamson 1995; Jacobs 1998; Rand 2004). It does this by examining some of the ways that editors construct queer identity and community in queer student media. While the majority of research on the deployment of queer identity focuses on US urban communities in the early 1990s, this article examines an Australian queer student community, which has been subject to little existing research. Mark Pendleton (2007) and Rob Cover (2004) document Australian queer, predominantly student, activism from 1999-2002. Suzanne Fraser (2008) considers Sydney gay male youths’ understandings of their identity, community and politics. Part of this examined what 'queer' means to these men. There is also some work on Australian queer media (Goddard 1996; Scahill 2001; Cover 2002; O’Donnell 2004; Cover 2005; Robinson 2007). There is no previous research which examines Australian queer student media. Greg Jacobs (1998, 197) states that '"queer" is a site of ideological struggle within the lesbian and gay community': this article documents some of the ideologies grounding that struggle.

I have shown in a previous publication (Rodgers 2009) how queer students define queer using the discourses of diversity and inclusivity. '"'Queer' ... does not have a uniform": articulations of queer identity in Australian queer student media' showed that some queer student media represents queer identity as a category that can encompass more than just GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) and, in turn, is an identity that acknowledges the diversity amongst all it encompasses. This includes a variety of sexualities, sexes, sexual practices, genders, classes, and ethnicities. However, I also found limits to those definitions with queer student media constructing borders for who is and is not queer. The gay white middle-class male was one identity that was consistently excluded. In this article, I explore diversity and inclusivity in the production of queer student media. 

This paper also gives consideration to my theoretical perspective and methodology. This is important because there is an absence of research combining queer theory and Media Studies (Cover 2002, 110). My research is grounded in a queer theoretical perspective of identity performativity. Cover argues that queer theoretical approaches to the study of media products fail to consider the material contexts which contribute to their construction (2002, 110). I use an ethnographic approach to consider editorial processes in queer student media. My project contributes to queer media scholarship by using a methodology which addresses the gaps that Cover identifies. The discussion of editorial processes provides examples of identity constitution in queer student media. Identity constitution in queer student media also demonstrates community mediation. Through editorial choices, what is and is not queer is defined and this thus defines who is and is not part of the queer student media audience and community.


Contextualising Queer Student Media

My research considered a broad range of queer student media from The University of Queensland (UQ), University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Monash University, The University of Melbourne (MU), and three issues of national queer student publication Querelle. This media includes zines, magazines, magazine articles, posters and fliers from the period 2003-06. The interviewees featured in this article were from UTS, UQ, and MU. They were involved in producing their union’s queer publication or Querelle. The students interviewed had all been queer officers for their student union and also regularly contributed to queer and other student media.

The queer student activism that produces the queer student media under examination here occurs within the institutionally supported environment of university student unions. Many Australian university student unions have policies that require elected queer officers to represent and organise for queer students. These officers are usually given a budget that funds, among other things, queer student media. This media can be posters, pamphlets, zines, articles in other publications, and whole magazines. The form the media takes depends on who is producing it, their financial limitations and the aims of the media. For example, posters may be A4 or A3 black and white photocopies, whereas publications may have up to 40 double-sided pages and be professionally printed with colour inside. University students are commonly aged between eighteen and twenty-four, however, contributors may be post-graduate or mature age students, or not students at all. As queer student media is financially supported, it is free from the editorial constraints that are often associated with media dependant on advertising (Burns 2002, 24; Atton and Hamilton 2008, 39).  However, Queer student media is often subject to the general guidelines of student union publications that promote material free of racism, sexism, and homophobia. The material under examination here is produced in an educated, largely middle-class university environment (Griffith University 2008), and thus such contexts and constraints inform the understandings of queer that are produced in queer student media and throughout queer activism.


Theoretical Perspective: Queer Theory and Media Studies

Queer theory, grounded in constructionism, regards sex, gender and sexuality as socially constructed, historically located, and non-natural. Sex, gender and sexuality are often perceived to be 'natural' in Western culture. Michel Foucault (1980) views sexuality not as an innate identity, but as a tool and an influential effect of a web of discursive and political strategies. These ideas lay the theoretical foundation for my use of Performativity Theory and acknowledge that queer student activists’ queerness is constructed in particular socio-cultural contexts through discourses.

Judith Butler’s theory of performativity posits a theory of the 'doing' of gender and sexuality (Butler 1990, 1991). I investigate the performativity of queer student activists in media texts; particularly, their 'doing' of queerness in the editorial processes of queer student media. For Butler, identity cannot be understood outside of gender - people only gain an intelligible identity through gender (1990, 16). Butler sees (gender) identity as an effect of the regulatory practice of 'compulsory heterosexuality' (1990, 19). Gender identity is thus limited by the available modes for 'doing' (gender) identity. These limited modes are the discursive practices available to 'do' (gender) identity.  In 'Imitation and Gender Insubordination' (Butler 1991), Butler writes of sexuality as performative, adding another layer to her theory of identity performativity. She states: 'The professionalisation of gayness requires a certain performance of a "self" which is the constituted effect of a discourse that nevertheless claims to "represent" that self as a prior truth' (Butler 1991, 18, emphasis in original). From this we can assert that, in addition to one’s gender identity being performative, one’s sexuality identity is performative. Performativity, informed by queer theory, provides an appropriate model for investigating the 'doing' of identity.

Rob Cover (2002) notes the potential for the synthesis of the academic fields of queer theory and Media Studies, and highlights a dearth of research which attempts to join these perspectives. 'Re-Sourcing Queer Subjectivities: Sexual Identity and Lesbian/Gay Print Media' (Cover 2002) is an example of the combination of queer theory and media analysis, and the consideration of performativity in relation to media texts. Cover applies the queer theoretical perspective of identity constitution to analyse the lesbian/gay community small press’s role in constituting performative lesbian/gay subjects. Cover states, in 'Judith Butler’s identity performativity, the subject performs his or her subjectivity "in accord" with given discursive norms through the repetitive citation of the signifier of that identity' (Cover 2002, 110). Other theories of gay/lesbian media and identity state that a subject, with an underlying sense of identity, encounters a text and recognises themselves in it (Cover 2002, 115). Such theories make the assumption that there is an underlying fixed sense of identity (Cover 2002, 114). This is in opposition to queer theory’s configurations of performative identity, where the subject’s identity is constructed through the discourses encountered in the text. Cover’s work on the constitution of identities through media texts evidences performativity as an appropriate theoretical perspective with which to view identity in queer student media. 

Performativity allows us to consider how these identities are constructed through the process of being acted out on a daily basis. Performativity occurs in many places, including the media and, in this context, print media. Textual performativity includes both the process and product of text. Queer student activists’ identity performatives are enacted through their media texts. Susan Driver (2008, 14) considers the application of Performativity Theory for studying queer youth culture and states that, 'Performativity underscores an expansive range of utterances through which youth signify their desires and identifications by reiterating and transforming discursive conventions'. Driver (2008, 10) emphasises the use of this approach, stating that 'framing youth in terms of queer performative cultural and political engagements … refocuses attention onto active production and deployment of discourses by youth themselves'. In his research on flaming in an online queer Russian migrant website, Adi Kuntsman (2007, 104) uses performativity to 'address "Russian", "migrant", and "queer" – not as pre-existing categories of identity, but as products of performative repetitions and collective negotiations'. Performativity is applied to treat queer identity similarly in my research. He approaches the 'online space as a site where individual and collective identities can be constituted through speech acts'. In my research, queer student media is the site where queer identities are negotiated and constituted. By applying Performativity Theory to the circulation of discourses amongst queer students and queer student media, it can be seen that 'the culturally-scripted … is generated … through repeated citations of norms and their transgression' (Boucher 2006, 141) – in this case, the culturally-scripted understandings of queer, the performatives of queerness. By considering performativity, the discourses that inform the negotiation queer student activists’ identities and understandings of queer in the production of their media texts can be uncovered.



Cover states that mediated processes of media production such as reading, access, censorship, production values, the economic labour relations and the labours of audiences are rarely taken into consideration in queer theoretical analyses of identity constitution. He argues that where the signs that contribute to identity constitution are subject to governance processes in production, mediation and reading, then these significations and processes become a central area of analysis in the investigation of the formulations of sexual subjects (Cover 2002, 110-111). This argument informs my methodology – news ethnography – which uses semi-structured in-depth interviews in order to investigate performativities in media processes. If media processes are examined, we can come to further understand the various ways that identity and community are formed through activist media.

News Ethnography provides a theoretical and methodological framework for the analysis of queer student media. Work in the area of queer theory and Queer Studies is often called into question for its lack of attention to the material and the socio-cultural contexts in which objects of analysis are constructed (Hennessy 1994; Stein and Plummer 1994; Morton 1996; Seidman 1997, 16; Jackson 1999, 161; Turner 2000, 32; Epstein 2002, 52; Eves 2004; Lovaas, Ella and Gust  2006, 7). Given this, it is important to pay attention to the production contexts of queer student media. Richard Ericson, Patricia Baranek and Janet Chan  (1987, 74) speak of the importance of considering the contextual settings of what is being studied: 'Thinking must be regarded as a social process as well as an individual one, in which people actively manipulate cultural forms to sustain their activities. An ethnography of thought requires a description of the contexts in which the thought or knowledge in use, makes sense'.

The processes of media production are sites of knowledge constitution in addition to the final publications. News ethnography acknowledges this and allows for the consideration of production contexts in the analysis of news, demonstrating that news is 'a cultural form with particular ideological implications' (Tuchman 2002, 78). The production contexts shape the publications as certain type of media – queer student activist media, which differentiates it from other forms of community media, student media, and queer media. Representation does not just happen; people contribute to its construction. These people are located in particular socio-cultural contexts; production contexts are socio-cultural contexts that impact on representation. News ethnography allows for the consideration of 'the ways in which the representations present in media productions are related to the material realities of their production' (Golding and Murdock 1991 in Tuchman 2002, 88). This news ethnography approach explores processes specific to community media produced in an institutional environment. The interviews provide insights into how the production contexts and editorial processes influence how queer is constructed in queer student media.


Editing Queer in Queer Student Media

Decisions made at the editorial level define who is and is not queer in queer student media. The majority of the interview data dealt with concerns of inclusion and exclusion. Four interviewees aimed to produce publications that represented queer inclusively. They did this by including articles about a wide range of topics relating to queer issues and experiences. These students discussed their aims to produce publications that feature inclusivity, diversity, and a broad range of subjects. These aims informed their choices of content, and thus contributed to how queer was defined in these publications.


Kyja: No one had thought of a theme yet so I kind of just put it down as like transgression in my little notes just because I thought that it would be awesome to have an edition called Transgression because not only would it open that to talk about trans issues or for trans people to have more of a voice but also the way in which queer kind of doesn’t challenge and exceed particular versions of heterosexuality.

Jaki: I know one article I think on queerness and bisexuality I think, 'Who’s in the Box? ' where it was kind of talked about why I’m uncomfortable, with bisexual as a label for me, was also a response to discussions we’d been having within the group about what queer is, but also – because as you go along you kind of go 'we don’t have articles like this or that. '

Interviewer: So it’s important to kind of cover a wide range of topics you were trying to…

Jaki: We would try to, yes. We’d also have grand plans and want to kind of have everyone represented. That never happened of course because you can’t make people write stuff.

Interviewer: So I guess that’s trying to attend to that diversity and inclusivity?

Jaki: Yes, and also just because it was like important. Yeah it was just important to us that it wasn’t just us. In recognition of the fact that…

Interviewer: ‘Us’ being the editing team?

Jaki: Yes, the editing team or the collective which pretty much were the same thing. So it wasn’t just our view of what queerness is and our experience of queer, but other people could actually put their view in.

Interviewer: A wide range of opinions and experiences?

Jaki: There was always a goal, not always the way it ended up.

Interviewer: Why is that important to have a wide range of opinions and experience?

Jaki: Well it comes down to like, you know, if everyone has a different definition of queer and a different experience of being queer, then you need a wide range of people, a wide range of views to even come close to…

Stu: We tried as much as we can to just put a huge broad spectrum of different types of articles in there. So it wasn’t so much that we were trying to exclude articles, it was just that we were trying to have different views. So if we got three articles about the same thing from the same perspective we would only put one in.

Tallace: When I was writing that I was also acting as the queer officer, you know, and it was important that … [I was] kind of acting in some kind of official capacity trying to foster that tolerance and inclusivity. But something that I was always consciously trying to do … was attempting to cut against a radical feminist or anti-queer politics that I thought existed. … Also, I was particularly concerned that a lot of so-called queer places were sexist. So that was a major problem. It was like massive at Monash. Women were always saying that they couldn’t spend any time in the queer space because it was dominated by men. Then they made it a women’s only hour or something which I think I did write something about somewhere.


Two interviewees saw it as their duty to address particular issues, or address topics in order to work towards inclusivity. This is particularly evident in Tallace’s quote where she links her efforts to foster tolerance and inclusivity with her interjection and address of politics which she sees as exclusionary. These performatives of queer could be influenced by a number of factors. The efforts towards inclusivity point to an influence of the university setting, with the role of queer officer informing a sense of obligation among the students. This is not to suggest, however, that their formal responsibilities were the only reason that they worked towards an inclusive publication. One student mentioned the ‘free from racism, sexism and homophobia’ requirement of union publications. However, the fact that the majority of interviewees did not mention these compliance factors raises the question of whether the shape of publications can be ascribed purely to their own personal, or collective, motivations which would include their understandings of queer.

Stu’s quote raises the issue that the publication becomes not demographically or quantitatively inclusive, but inclusive based on topic diversity. To elaborate: if twenty students wrote articles expressing what is clearly a majority view, and one student wrote something entirely idiosyncratic, the latter would achieve equal representation with the former. It could be argued that diversity of content is sometimes more important to some editors than inclusivity; editorial decisions in queer student media could be governed by choices of topic diversity and inclusivity, rather than demographic or quantitative inclusivity. This means that although editors express intentions towards inclusivity, articles which express issues of concern to a particular identity may be excluded in the aim of achieving topic diversity. This would influence the performatives of queer, and thus how ‘queer’ and queer student community is defined.

Sometimes an editor may actively work to exclude particular perspectives.


Tallace: I know that when I was editing this [Querelle 2004], when I was doing the call out and making the promo posters and everything, I had this great image which was of a rose smeared in Vaseline which was very like 'cuntish' … So I was consciously trying to make queer a bit confronting … it was an intense picture. I guess I was consciously trying to make it 'cuntish' and confronting particularly to gay men. I guess that’s an editorial decision I made.

Interviewer: Yeah definitely. Do you feel that came out in the final publication?

Tallace: Kind of.

Interviewer: Yeah?

Tallace: It was weird, yeah no it did. There were plenty of submissions from women and…

Interviewer: So you consciously tried to make it inclusive especially in terms of women?

Tallace: I don’t think it was inclusivity that I was aiming for. I think if anything, I wanted to alienate a certain kind of person … I mean you could say the converse that I wanted to inspire another kind of person to submit. But I guess it wasn’t a friendly space ever for someone who wanted to write, like anything particularly, anything that I didn’t agree with … anything that I thought wasn’t queer.


Efforts towards inclusivity in queer student media are dictated by the editors’ definitions of 'queer'. According to another student, if editors deem an author to be 'straight', regardless of the author’s self-identification, that person’s article would be excluded. Four interviewees expressed the desire to uphold queer autonomy in their publications. This demonstrates that, despite inclusive definitions of queer and efforts towards inclusivity in the production and product of queer student media, the interviewees’ performatives of queer can be exclusionary.

The students interviewed contributed content to the publications as well as editing content. This problematises the editor-author binary, which is often steadfast in other forms of media. The voluntary nature of queer student media would contribute to this. Chris Atton notes this is one way that community media demonstrates a horizontal communication model (1999, 72). The horizontal communication model exemplifies a way that community media is argued to be alternative to mainstream media. However, the breakdown of the editor-author binary also means that interviewees would have further influence on what is published, perhaps limiting the quantitative or topical inclusivity.

The quality and length of articles had to be kept in consideration when making editorial decisions, and when editing articles, to ensure suitability for the publication. The type of publication – for example, a zine or a magazine – also influenced the content included. The production of zines is not dictated by student media policy – the policy does not state that a certain number must be produced each year – nor are they professionally printed. They are usually produced by collective members in line with collective goals, and would also be governed the union’s anti-discrimination policy.


Khrys: If I’m excluding something from a particular publication it’s not because of what it is, it’s because it’s not leading towards what the publication is aimed at. So the concept of exclusion is only things which don’t fulfil – almost like the criteria that can be out there, it can be against what the theme is at that time but as long as it’s sort of towards it. A lot of these actual publications were published alongside Semper and the zines used to include a lot more of the other things. So zines were basically raw material the way that I used to use them. So zines used to be used more as a rough resource and things for people to look at as opposed to having [21:23] they’d have a theme often because we get so many things. You can’t really have a zine that’s like 476 pages long. So we’d often theme things but everything would go in that was submitted.

Interviewer: Did the audience differ for the zine to the magazines?

Khrys: Quite often to be honest, but the purpose of the publication also differed. So almost with publications of student organisations, they’re often left at all faculties. Quite often the largest readers are people who are residential on campus. So that’s also a very different readership than the concept of zines which would be pushed through the counter culture sort of areas. So the alternate nightclubs, events, things like Queeruption where people would go to actually display their art and their compilations. So zines were very much for people who were aware or wanting to be aware of the more forefront of current thought on queer. Whereas the magazines tended to be something that were just more mainstream and were just put out eight or 12 a year and that’s what you dealt with.

Interviewer: So they were consciously produced differently and disseminated in different places?

Khrys: Yeah. There were several occasions where particularly [22:49] from UQ was producing a zine like [22:52] and that was mine. But they tended to be more artistic than having the academic content as well for the contributor content which was written as opposed to through artistic.


Stu also talked about editing for quality and length:


Stu: Some of it’s general discussion about what the article’s about because it’s not actually relevant to the magazine at all, it’s just that we just read this really cool article and we want to talk about it.

Interviewer: Okay, so perhaps kind of a reflection on the content?

Stu: Yeah. Otherwise it’s where someone’s read an article and they think it’s a horrible article and we get together to discuss can we put it in, can we not. That can come from terribly bad content to terribly bad writing style. If it’s terribly bad writing style we normally try to – I know there is one article in there that ended up being not even half as long as it was originally. We contacted the author and said ‘we want to cut it down a bit. Do you mind? We’ll let you run through it before we publish anything to make sure it still gets your message across.’ So Bina and I who were obviously working on the magazine actually sat down for about an hour one night trying to read through. It was really poorly structured and painful to read. It took us an hour to cut it down from around about 1000 words to 400 or something.

Interviewer: That’s really useful.

Stu: That’s part of being an editor, not just a queer.

Interviewer: Yeah, definitely.


Stu noted that editing for length and quality is a general editorial issue. However, what is deemed to be (say) quality, of suitable length, or otherwise appropriate for a particular type of publication is influenced by other areas of the production context, such as editor subjectivity and space allowed within publications. Collectively, these influences contribute to the editors’ performatives of queer.

Finally, five interviewees noted that the subjectivity of the editors, of those involved in the production, and of the authors of articles considerably influenced how queer was represented. While subjectivities would certainly influence performatives in queer student media, these subjectivities are shaped in particular contexts, which include the production contexts under consideration. The above analysis works towards delineating the matrix of factors that influence how queer student media defines 'queer'.

These examples demonstrate how some of the editorial processes of queer student media contribute to the definition of queer in queer student media. However, their editorial decisions don’t just define and represent their understandings of queer, and their queer identities, but their queer identities are constituted, in part, through their editorial decisions. Further, audience identities are constituted in encountering these texts, as demonstrated by Cover (2002). In its role in shaping and reflecting community ideas, media serves as an accessible site for understanding a community. The influence minority media has on group identity, ideology and values (Carey 1969, 131; Emke and Woodrow 2003) indicates that student media contributes to the understandings of queer, queer identity and queer activism that readers derive from it. Chris Atton and James Hamilton argue that alternative media[1] forms part of a network of discursive circulation rather than being the sole driving force behind social movements. They suggest a 'materialist perspective, which reconceptualises culture as not a simple expression of a social movement but as the public, discursive activity by which it comes into being' (Atton and Hamilton 2001, 124). Similarly, Ellie Rennie states that 'alternative media is in fact an extension of the active audience (from active consumption to production), a cultural interaction' (2006, 19). Marcus O’Donnell reminds us that this perspective is important to consider as the 'mediacentric tendency is common to much that has been written about the gay press' (2004, 144). This means that activist media can be conceptualised, and analysed, as a crucial element of activism and not just an extension or representation of it. Thus, the above discussions work towards defining who is and is not queer in queer student media, and by extension the queer student community.



Cover notes the potential for the synthesis of the academic fields of queer theory and Media Studies, and highlights a dearth of research which attempts to join these perspectives (2002). The lens of performativity applies queer theory to the domain of Media Studies, and thus addresses the gap that Cover identifies. My consideration of editorial decisions and production contexts addresses the absence of queer theory’s consideration of processes when analysing media and identity.

I have presented editorial processes that are performativities of queer in queer student media. Queer identity is constituted through editorial decisions, such as article selection and themes chosen for publications. These performativities are sites of identity constitution and community mediation.

The application of queer theory to Media Studies provides a post-structuralist approach for analysing the process and product of media text. As Irmi Karl states, 'Queer ethnographic approaches can and should blur the boundaries between social scientific and humanities approaches to the study of the everyday, gender, and sexuality, by making use of, for example, Butler’s theory of gender performativity and by probing it in the light of empirical inquiry' (2007, 55).


About the author: Dr Jessica Rodgers is a Research Associate for the Creative Workforce Program at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. Her PhD thesis examined ‘Australian Queer Student Activists’ Media Representations of Queer’.   

Acknowledgements: An earlier form of this article was presented at the 2010 ANZCA Conference, Canberra, Australia, July 7-9. The author would like to thank Belinda Morrissey, Christy Collis and the anonymous reviewer for their feedback.



[1] Alternative media can include community and activist media.



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Community radio in Australia, and community media in general, has received increased attention from academics in recent years. Forde et al (2002) highlight the need for further study into news and current affairs programming in the community broadcasting sector, saying that they are keen to discover more about its format and content, especially in terms of the attitudes and practices of information-based program producers. This paper attempts to clarify some of these issues by outlining the results of a case study of information-based programming at Brisbane community radio 4ZzZ and adopting a modified citizen’s media framework.


The internet provides a means for non-professional media-makers to produce and publish their own video and audio content, as community television and radio have done for several decades. While the web seems to exemplify the principles of media access and diversity championed by the community media sector, it also raises challenges for broadcast community media participants and their online equivalents, not least being the co-opting of the term ‘community media’ by large commercial interests. A symposium held in Melbourne by Open Spectrum Australia (‘Quality/Control’, State Library of Victoria, Oct 2008) brought together people with a wide range of community media experience to discuss this and other issues, particularly the possibilities for greater cooperation between broadcast and online community media participants.

This paper draws on participant contributions at the symposium to explore the relationship between broadcast and online community media. Despite shared values, we identify different, and possibly incompatible, cultures within the two groups. We argue that this disjoint stems from two different systems of control or validation (licensing and networks), as well as producer-centered accounts of community media that are out of sync with the contemporary media environment. Instead, we propose that theory and practice begin to address issues of consumption in relation to community media, including identification, navigation and the notion of ethical choice.


To ground an assessment of community radio’s contributions to political life, this paper reviews recent developments in public sphere theory and discourse ethics. Tracing a genealogy of thinking from Habermas to Warner, the paper argues that formative contexts of contemporary politics such as the radical pluralisation of culture, the emergence of lifestyle politics and the epistemic change to a communication paradigm – also powerful forces in community radio – can find parallel theoretical resources in recent writing on the public sphere. The dialectical engagement of open and inclusive publicity (associated with liberal public life), with a more enclosed, strategic approach (associated with community groups’ decision processes) is not a theoretical obstacle, but a highly useful resource. Underpinning ‘circulation of opinion’ analysis, it can ground a contemporary policy analysis which values both normativity and diversity.