<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español July 31, 2014 | Issue #67


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“Authentic Journalism Offers a Solution to Problems,” Al Giordano Says

While Traditional Journalism Dies, Social Communication From the People Gets Stronger


By Ingrid Morris
Class of 2011, School of Authentic Journalism

June 10, 2011

As mutants who are a necessary force for saving humanity, the X-men are a comic book characterization that might also apply to the young people who make up the School of Authentic Journalism. The school, started by Narco News founder Al Giordano, brings together journalists and organizers from around the world to spend ten intense days learning the art of authentic journalism. Like the X-men, authentic journalists are a nuisance and a rock in the shoe of the mass media. They are necessary because they can save humanity through real journalism.

The campus of the school is in the Mexican state of Morelos. It was in this state that Giordano, after living with indigenous people from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation for various years, started a website in 2000 called Narco News to report on conflicts from the drug war. At the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism, Giordano looks at the scholars with a mischievous smile while holding a cigarette. “You are the X-men of journalism,” he says.


Narco News publisher and School of Authentic Journalism founder Al Giordano (right) converses with journalist and poet Javier Sicilia at the graduation dinner of the 2011 session in Mexico City. DR 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
There were around forty young people from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the United States and other countries at the first session of the school in 2003. They had experience with community radio, small independent newspapers, photography, and reporting. These young people shared a criticism of traditional journalism and the way it was done. Noah Friedman-Rudovisky, a resident student in Bolivia during the second session of the school and originally from the United States, is now a professor. He says that during the first school, Narco News caught his attention because the analysis and understanding of conflicts generated by drug trafficking and confrontations between social movements and neoliberal governments was not being seen in his country. Andrew Stelzer, another student and professor who has also attended all four schools, says “the first time I heard about things like a blog was when I found Narco News.” Stelzer explains that the newspaper was one of the first online media outlets to offer a conversation between the reader and writer, something that blogs are considered to do today.

The new Narco News X-men team is as full of smart and restless young people as Giordano imagined. In an uncomplicated and creative way, he has been able to produce a new way of learning. From the outside, the sensation is different. Maia Facen and Tiberio Tinarelli accompany the school and are close friends of Giordano. They prepare drinks in the school’s social areas. Speaking about their perception of the students and work groups, they say that “it’s exciting to see people who still believe in changing the world through revolutionary alternatives that are different from power and destruction.” Perhaps the best description of the feeling many have when attending the school is put forth by Maia, who says that the first time she was at the school, “For months I had the euphoric feeling that something could happen at any time,” that feeling of change from people who are working to change things.

Journalists and students of social movements from different countries and cultures who have attended the four schools learn to perceive reality with hope and optimism. They do not report from the drudgery and sadness of bad news, but rather from the social movements that are proposing changes and solutions. After the experience of four schools, the concept of authentic journalism has been born and strengthened. It is characterized by being honest, inclusive, and reporting “from below” to express the interests of the people, over those who govern them.

Brazilian Natalia Viana, Noah, Andrew and others who were among the students of the first two schools—and who are now professors—remember how the first sessions were a place where everyone discussed the characteristics of the journalism that they wanted and were doing. These “mutants” not only call themselves “authentic,” but they also say that an authentic journalist doesn’t try to be objective because it’s clear that he or she is on the side of the people who are organizing, mobilizing, and are close to victory. Besides, an authentic journalist doesn’t resort to yellow journalism to draw attention, but rather the opposite: to be entertaining, “to be successful,” says Gregory Berger, graduate of the 2004 school in Bolivia and now a regular professor at the school. It’s not an alternative form of journalism that takes second place, and it doesn’t accept critics who are afraid to put their name on their writing because of what it says. On the contrary, it’s about journalists who argue and give a face to their own opinions.

Giordano never tires of saying, in multiple plenary sessions during the school, that this is a journalism that believes in “organizers” and not “activists.” According to him, the latter group marches and looks only for collaborators who already agree with them, and that is why they are so exclusive and easily defeated. Here, “organizers” are defined as creative people who look to be inclusive, adding hearts and minds to their cause—people who don’t necessarily share their viewpoints—with the purpose of joining forces and obtaining solidarity in order to change communities, countries and the whole world.

Since the first school, the comparison of “X-men” with authentic journalists has strengthened. This identity is also based on the fact that these journalists “are willing to earn less money to serve communities and do what they love,” says Viana, one of the veteran students of the school who now reports for WikiLeaks and other media. They listen to the people and communicate what they say, becoming a part of the communities, living and observing the conflict with their own eyes. They don’t discriminate against other opinions, and they transmit the information about the problem and its solution. They are honest with themselves and with communities, making their opinions clear to the point that objectivity doesn’t exist.

Bill Conroy is an investigative journalist who has been with the school since its second session after his application to the first school was rejected. Since the second school, he has helped as a professor. According to him, “to be authentic is to accept that we’re not perfect and that as humans we are always bettering ourselves.” To which Natalia says, “the people who do this kind of journalism do not have prejudices with the people who are creating different ways of communicating.”

The school creates and forms “mutants,” authentic journalists that flood the media more and more each year. Who would have thought that Giordano would begin all of this after resigning as a political reporter from a newspaper in Boston? He was ashamed of his profession after trying to deal numerous times with mainstream media journalists that were mercenaries, ambitious, repeating the official version of events, and disinterested in complaints from the people.


Ingrid Morris at the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. DR 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
With the growing environment of narco-trafficking and corruption, Giordano was hopeless and was looking to report on something. He remembers, in the middle of his denial about being a journalist, the indigenous of Chiapas telling him in 1997, “Don’t you think that you can make a new form of journalism in the same way that we have been able to become new campesinos?” As Giordano tells it, the campesinos explained that they were “new campesinos” because they had fought to recover their dignity and their own lives from manipulation.

The rebirth of struggles in Latin America was a stimulus that brought Giordano back to journalism. In addition, there was a revealing story he had found in Por Esto!, the most-read daily in the Yucatan Peninsula. The article reported everything that the other media outlets wouldn’t say about drug trafficking in the late 1990s, including details of an investigation into the case of Banamex CEO Roberto Hernández Ramírez, without omitting the reality of the facts. When he read it, Giordano quickly searched for the author of the article and discovered that it was Mario Menéndez, a recognized figure with social movements in Yucatán and the owner of Por Esto!. Menéndez explained in a plenary to the students of the 2010 School that his work and that of other journalists is to not be afraid to tell the truth and to sacrifice their own image in order to support the rights and justice of the people.

But surely, the case of Banamex CEO Roberto Hernández Ramírez was something definite that created this new journalism shortly after 1997. Giordano published an article about Hernandez and drug trafficking, reporting on the events of that story in a speech at Columbia University. He was accused of defaming the owner of Banamex and was taken to court. However, this legal process turned him into a public figure in 2001. The New York Supreme Court dropped the charges under the First Amendment of the US constitution, guaranteeing the first rights to digital media in the United States.

Earlier, in 1999, the World Trade Organization was meeting in Seattle, Washington. The anti-neoliberal protests created what the media considered to be a demonstration with the most impact against the G-7, with the participation of almost 50,000 people against globalization. In Mexico, this mobilization took root after changes that happened as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US and Mexico, and strengthened the “zapatismo” that had brought intellectuals and journalists like Giordano to Mexico. The protests shaped the creation of media outlets like Indymedia. All of these movements, and the necessity of expression, created a boom for the Internet and other tools that helped in the diffusion of independent ideas. Meanwhile, young people found Narco News to be a free space for expression, where they could talk about these subjects after feeling stimulated by Narco News’ victory in the court. They didn’t hesitate to stay in contact.

Young people were against the economic models and were instead for the struggle of economic, social, and cultural rights in this revolutionary social situation. As good “mutants” with “super-powers,” they were critics of government corruption. The School of Authentic Journalism brought people together with social organizations and communicators with the purpose of teaching and trading experiences. It’s about “writing more about social movements,” says Erin Rosa, who is one of the editors of Narco News. It’s a family that exchanges what they learn horizontally, where all the scholars are like professors. It celebrates the achievements and the best of a collective organization, the pleasure of transmuting change and “jamming” from daily improvisation, says Giordano.

With a school that each year creates a new generation of authentic journalists, it has fulfilled the proposals for a new journalism that the indigenous insisted upon in the 1990s. Even better, it’s not hard to remember that a few years ago the “journalistic resistance” was a concept that produced derision among the different communities of traditional media. “And with the progressive death of the big media monopolies and the growth of community media with authentic journalism, who’s laughing now?” says a smiling Giordano as he finishes talking about authentic journalism.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America