Announcing 40 Scholarships to Learn Strategic Journalism and Civil Resistance in Mexico, March 21 to 31 of 2012
A Four-Week Sprint: Your Completed Application for the School of Authentic Journalism is Due on Wednesday, December 28, 2011
By Al Giordano Founder, School of Authentic Journalism
December 1, 2011
From the Arab Spring through the Mexican and European Summer to the Autumn Occupations from Wall Street to Main Street, 2011 has been a year of protest. Some mobilizations bloomed into bona fide movements (others had been built as movements all along), while others did not (or, at least, they have not yet). Some were organized into successful civil resistances, and brought considerable advances and historic victories. Others stranded along the road without having drawn a map. Throughout them all, independent journalists, video-makers and communicators tried to communicate these events, also with varying results.
From Chiapas to Cairo to Barcelona to Mexico City: Mercedes Osuna, Noha Atef and Marta Molina at the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. D.R. 2011 Narco News.
“Do or do not, there is no try,” Yoda told his pupil (yes, we are actively seeking nerds, too, for this ten-day scholarship). And this is another crossroads upon which independent journalism has come: With so much movement going on all around us, so many organizers and civil resisters putting so much on the line to bring about change in society, it is no longer enough (as if it ever was!) to simply “try” with good intentions to make media about human events and struggles. Official journalism’s curtain of “objectivity” has torn to threads before the eyes of public opinion, and activist media’s obsessions with street battles and riot porn (or, in some corners, a starry-eyed evangelical view that the Internet and social media somehow “cause” revolutions) haven’t gained any more credibility in the eyes of the audience.
We began the School of Authentic Journalism in 2002, and after almost a decade of trial and error, of breakthroughs and setbacks, and so many kilometers walked alongside movements and resistances, reporting and amplifying their stories, we’ve learned some lessons and reached some conclusions about where “trying” ends and “doing” begins.
For the first ten days of Spring in 2012, we’ll be inviting 40 scholarship recipients in the fields of investigative and Internet journalism, and in the production of video and the art of making it “go viral,” to Mexico: not merely to expand your communications skills and meet 80 people from many different lands but who are still a lot like you, but to study, with us, the most important knowledge that a journalist or any kind of communicator must have to be able to report on movements effectively: The strategies of civil resistance, of nonviolence, of community organizing and the dynamics by which, in a world so dominated by media, successful struggles win over public opinion and strip it away – along with the rings of support that keep unjust and despotic institutions (public and private sector, alike) with the power they use to maintain control.
Stephen Zunes, Ivan Marovic, Janet Cherry & Nathan Mpangala at the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. D.R. 2011 Narco News.
Who are we to claim to be able to teach something so big as the ability to change history and tell its stories in ways that help bring about that change? Our names are Javier Sicilia, Janet Cherry, Jim Lawson, Paulina Gonzalez, James Wolcott, Arzu Geybullayeva, Ivan Marovic, Mercedes Osuna, Oscar Olivera, Noha Atef, and thirty more experienced change-makers and journalists, who will be your professors at this next session of the School of Authentic Journalism. I’ll tell you more about all of us in a minute. But first, let me tell you about these scholarships:
We charge no tuition. We don’t make you pay for the books and other materials we equip you with. This is not a business, please. We are not looking for people based on your ability to pay. For those scholarship recipients who otherwise would not be able to afford to come to Mexico and study these matters, with the help of our readers at Narco News, and the matching support of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, we may even pay your airfare, food and lodging, as we have done for many deserving scholarship recipients over the years. If we think you have the talent, the social conscience, the work ethic and the unconquerable will to be part of the Authentic Journalism renaissance, we won’t let economic obstacles stand in your or our way of meeting and working together.
Arzu Geybullayeva (class of 2011) returns to the School in 2012 as faculty director of the Internet Journalism workgroup. D.R. 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
How do you get this scholarship? First, you complete an application. It is due on December 28 at 11:59 p.m. That’s four weeks from today. This is not an easy application. It has lots of questions and an essay requirement. It takes most applicants at least a couple of days to complete it and do it well. You can get this application, in English, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also choose to fill it out in Spanish, by sending an email to email@example.com. Open it now: It’s not your ordinary scholarship application because we seek extraordinary scholars. One of the reasons this application asks so much of you is that it filters out the lazy or those that don’t really want it. Simply completing this application is our first clue that you’re the kind of go-getter journalist or communicator that we seek.
The scholarships are open to anyone who is fluent in English or in Spanish (all sessions of the School of Authentic Journalism are translated, in both languages, as they happen). It is also open to everyone of any age, education level, nationality, faith, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status or political tendency. We don’t ask for your Curriculum Vitae or resume: We are much more interested in how you think and work. We also ask to see some examples of your writing, blogging, webmastering, video or other media work, and try to get a sense of whether this ten-day intensive session in Mexico can help you become better, faster and more coherent – with a more strategic understanding of the dynamics of how change is made to happen – because we’re not looking for anyone who already thinks that he or she “knows it all.” Heck, we’re the professors, and we learn more every time the School of Authentic Journalism hosts another session!
Noha Atef helped build the culture of resistance that made the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 possible. In her spare time, she starts fashion trends. Here, at the 2011 School with scholars Monina Morris, of Colombia, and Patricia Guerrero, of Mexico. DR 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
When we speak of “strategic journalism and civil resistance,” we’re not just talking about the crafts and skills of media making. Our experience reporting on social movements for decades (hundreds of years, I suppose, if you add up all our experiences) has led us to this conclusion: It is no longer possible to do good work making media about worthy causes, social movements, civil resistance, nonviolent action, community organizing and making change without understanding how it happens, and how it too often fails to happen. We all need to understand strategy better. How does a small group of individuals who want to change their community, their country, or their world, organize to become a larger group? How have the successful ones prepared and trained themselves and others? How have they kept growing and resisted getting boxed into a small, easily dismissed, demographic, market niche or media spectacle? How do they, step by step, win over public opinion? How do they then mobilize that public opinion to remove the obstacles that those in power put in the path of people who demand change? The Egyptian revolution of 2011, for example, did not begin on January 25 and it did not end on February 11! It was years in the making and will continue to work years to complete it. The same was, and is, true for the other movements and civil resistances that members of our faculty have helped organize and have reported and made independent media about.
Let me introduce you to some of the people who we will bring together to work with 40 scholarship recipients in Authentic Journalism:
Javier Sicilia (left) receives his School of Authentic Journalism diploma from Al Giordano, after speaking with and answering questions from its class of 2011. D.R. 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
Javier Sicilia was already an authentic journalist, a renowned poet and student of Gandhian nonviolence – his column in the Mexican national newsweekly Proceso ended each edition with an appeal to respect the San Andres peace accords for indigenous autonomy – before the tragic and violent assassination of his son, Juan Francisco, last March thrust him into the national spotlight and he inspired the world’s first mass movement against the war on drugs. A friend of this project practically since its inception, he attended the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in Mexico has, in eight months, brought the plight of drug war victims to national attention and sympathy, and in 2012 will continue to grow and evolve closer to steps of national civil resistance. We’ll not only be hearing from Javier next March, one year after his tragic loss, but we’re actively recruiting truly independent journalists and media makers to help us continue reporting each of its steps to the nation and the world. If you’re already doing that, and seek to do it better, faster and more coherently, we especially encourage you to apply for this scholarship.
If you’d like to get a glimpse at how plenary sessions at the School happen, check out this new Narco News TV video made at the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism, of Sicilia’s talk at the graduation dinner:
We learned some years ago that James Wolcott, whom I’ve long considered America’s foremost social critic, happened to be an avid reader of Narco News, when he began writing about our work on the pages of Vanity Fair, where he is senior writer. The recent release of his memoir, Lucking Out: My Life of Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York (2011, Doubleday) was a thrilling read, which I reviewed here, writing:
“Lucking Out teaches us all to be critics, with the proviso that the greatest thing a critic does is not to tear down, but to build up. All the tantalizing takedowns that authentic critics make merely establish the ground upon which, when they find something or someone really worthwhile to raise up, they can open the space for something truly new and interesting to happen. See that guy or gal in the back row of the theater, the one who hates everything that sucks and even some things that we don’t want to suck? Well he or she suddenly really likes something now! Let’s go see what the fuss is about!”
I can’t fuss enough about how Wolcott has kept alive the art of criticism during decades in which the commercial media nearly destroyed it. There are so many lessons he’s learned that are necessary for all authentic journalists to know, that I took a stab and asked him if he would join our faculty. He said yes. And, not only that, he’d like to learn video from our professors in that field. I surely have some things yet to learn from him, and I bet you do, too.
Paulina Gonzalez, Community Organizer, par excellence.
Paulina Gonzalez is another new addition to our faculty, a community organizer par excellence in Los Angeles who has devoted the last 20 years, in her words, “organizing for the rights of students, hotel workers, farm workers and immigrants,” which she does through the community organization SAJE (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy). After two months of laudable, if frustrating, efforts to expand the diversity and coalition of supporters of the “occupy” protests in LA, Gonzalez wrote this strategic think-piece for Narco News last week: Moving from Occupying Wall Street to Occupying Strategy. Maybe you’re a journalist or media-maker who has tried to do his or her best to report on the fledgling “occupy” protests (or their predecessor “indignados” protests in Spain), but who shares some of our wishes that these protests would take the next necessary steps of organizing, strategic planning and training, to transform from a mere series of protests into an actual movement (a necessary precursor to any successful civil resistance). In other words, if you think the “occupy” or “indignados” protests are just “so awesome, dude,” and that the independent media about them are already living up to their much-needed potential, this probably isn’t the scholarship for you. But if you know they could be better and more effective at winning over public opinion and building the steps toward authentic change, our application even gives you a chance to write us your thoughts and ideas about how to do that. We’re also looking for people who’ve learned some of the lessons of the last couple of months – and how protests alone do not an “American or European Arab Spring” make – and, like Paulina, we haven’t given up on the inspiring parts of “occupy,” or the independent media about it, but we agree that it has a long path to hoe. If you’re on that long distance run, too, this scholarship might just be for you.
Janet Cherry at the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism.
Some of our returning professors have helped organize and win gigantic nonviolent battles and changed history in the process. You probably know them already: Janet Cherry was a student organizer for the African National Congress and the struggle against Apartheid in her native South Africa. The Rev. Jim Lawson organized the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins against segregation in Nashville that inspired the national civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Jim “the foremost theorist and strategist of nonviolence.” At last year’s School of Authentic Journalism, one of the scholars’ favorite professors was Ivan Marovic, who at the age of 18 co-founded the small youth movement that organized for years to become the national popular movement that overthrew the Milosevic dictatorship in 2000. (Part of our response to some of the ideological cretins who still think that despot was worth propping up, and who will never forgive Ivan for his strategic mischief, was to create this video at last year’s j-school: Ivan Marovich: Retired Revolutionary:
Marta Molina (right) interviews Jim Lawson and Mexican peace movement leader Julian LeBaron at the October workshop on Journalism and Civil Resistance in New York. DR 2011 Quetzal Belmont.
And, once again, we’re thrilled to welcome Oscar Olivera back to the School. His organizing work in the “Water War” of 2000 that stopped the privatization of water supplies in Cochabamba, Bolivia, was, no pun intended, a “watershed moment” for so many of the movements and historic changes in Bolivia and throughout Latin America in the decade since. Also coming back to j-school is Mercedes Osuna, the tireless human rights defender in Chiapas, Mexico, who trained and supervised thousands of journalists and human rights observers in Zapatista territory in the 1990s, and schooled many, including yours truly, in how to behave – and how not to – in conflict zones, so as to minimize harm not only to ourselves, but to the people in the movements that we’re reporting.
Ivan Marovic & Greg Berger at the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism.DR 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
When Noha Atef attended our 2010 School of Authentic Journalism at the age of 25, she had already caused a national stir in her country of Egypt, as a blogger who exposed policemen who had practiced torture against citizens. Hers was one of many efforts by authentic journalists, bloggers and media makers that helped build the national movement that from 2006 to 2011 grew to topple the dictator Hosni Mubarak, and which continues, now, to dismantle the military dictatorship system. This will be her third School of Authentic Journalism (her second as a professor). This year she’ll be on our Viral Video Workgroup faculty, as well as contributing from her unique experience to our sessions on the strategic dynamics of successful civil resistance. From our first exposure to Noha, we knew she was on to something special. We had no idea that, less than a year later, it would culminate in an historic revolution, and one that continues today.
2011 was also the year that the environmental threat of nuclear power surfaced again from the tsunami-swept coast of Japan. Our professor Richard Bell has since published an updated version of his book (with co-authors Rory O’Connor and Steven Hilgartner): Nukespeak: The Selling of Nuclear Technology from the Manhattan Project to Fukishima (2011, Sierra Club Books). Richard and I organized together years ago in the antinuclear Clamshell Alliance, along with another of our returning professors, Stephen Zunes, the San Francisco University professor and prolific writer on civil resistance (he predicted the January 25 Egyptian Revolution weeks before anybody dreamed it could happen). I’ve known these guys for more than three decades. They’ve spent their lives researching and writing about so many of the subjects that our scholars want to learn.
We’ll also be joined by Jack DuVall, co-author of A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (2000, Palgrave), based on the PBS television series he co-produced by the same name. Jack is the director of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), an organization whose work has received increased attention in 2011 as many organizers from the Arab Spring to Mexico’s peace movement have cited its materials as helpful in their struggles. For the third year, ICNC is supporting the School of Authentic Journalism, including with $20,000 in matching support for every dollar donated by our readers to The Fund for Authentic Journalism. Also on our faculty from ICNC will be 2011 School of Authentic Journalism graduate Matt Mulberry. And we get to welcome, for the the first time, Althea Middleton-Denzer, who was part of our faculty for the October workshop in New York on Journalism and Civil Resistance.
The Journalism Faculty
Many of the professors listed above that are so experienced in the strategic dynamics of civil resistance that we study and teach obviously also double as writers and journalists themselves, and we’ll be putting them to work in the parts of our curriculum that shares skills useful to all journalists, especially those that report on social movements.
Each School of Authentic Journalism scholar has the task of writing at least one work of written online journalism or co-producing at least one video. This work happens in three workgroups: Investigative Journalism, Online Journalism and Viral Video Production. Our one-to-one ratio of professors to scholars also means that every scholarship recipient has his and her own faculty advisor to coach and help him and her in that work.
Andrew Stelzer (right) coaches Marine Lormant (class of 2010) on audio recording for video in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico.
Two of the professors of the 2012 j-school share the experience of having graduated from our first School of Authentic Journalism in 2003, and have been professors in every school since (2004, 2010 and 2011). And each will lead a breakout group during the school for scholars who want training in their fields. They are radio producer Andrew Stelzer and photojournalist Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. This being their fifth j-school appearance, they share the title, along with your writer, of “five time loser,” an affectionate term that acknowledges they do this work without receiving a cent and, like most of the professors, pay their own travel and contribute toward their food and lodging at the School to help us be able to make the program free for the scholarship recipients. In other words, their “free” scholarship in 2003 has turned out to be quite expensive for them ever since. It’s a sign of their dedication to the work of authentic journalism and of constantly training new generations to continue in this tradition. While we won’t have workgroups on radio or photojournalism, the work of the video group involves audio and photographic and image preparation training. Andrew and Noah will be part of that workgroup as well as leading breakout sessions for scholars that seek more advanced study in audio and photographic journalism.
Noah Friedman-Rudovsky leads a plenary session on photojournalism at the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Chairing the video group this year (we rotate many positions, year after year, just as we bring former scholars in as professors as part of our mission of building leadership and teaching skills) will be returning co-chair Greg Berger (class of 2004, the inimitable “Gringoyo” and director of Narco News TV) and a new co-chair, the social humorist, blogger and video producer Katie Halper (Class of 2010, now in her second stint as professor). Along with Stelzer and Friedman-Rudovsky in this workgroup will be Mexican filmmakers Sarahy Flores and Quetzal Belmont (both class of 2004) plus two graduates of the class of 2011: radio journalist Kevin Mwachiro, of Kenya, and political cartoonist and animator Nathan Mpangala, of Tanzania, whose artful hand designed our recent NNTV production, “Barrel of Laughs,” about the “dilemma actions” of the successful struggle by Serbians to topple that country’s dictator in 2000.
Another 2011 graduate, Arzu Geybullayeva, the Azerbaijani blogger in Istanbul, Turkey, impressed everyone so much (the joke was “Where’s Arzu? Oh, she’s been posting on Twitter and brought down five dictatorial regimes in the last twenty minutes”), that when we thought about how to best put her to work, it was clear that we had to draft her not just to co-chair the Online Journalism workgroup this year, but to give her the keys to the car and ask her to take the steering wheel altogether. Joining her will be the Mexican Internet video wizard Karina Gonzalez, the Colombian online journalist Hugo Ramírez and the Pennsylvanian authentic journalist Kara Newhouse (all three from the class of 2010) as well as 2011 graduate Tshepo Tshabalala coming from South Africa and our newest professor of all things Internet: Mexican radio host and Rolling Stone correspondent Miguel Angel Angeles.
Serbia, Kenya & Egypt: Alphonce Shiundu (middle) with Ivan Marovic (left) and Joe Rizk (right), visiting the historic home of the artist Frida Kahlo after attending the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. DR 2011 Janet Cherry.
The Investigative Journalism workgroup will be co-chaired this year by Narco News’ Most Valuable Player, Bill Conroy, along with 2010 graduate, the Brazilian journalist Mariana Simoes. Narco News correspondent Marta Molina, who has been reporting extensively on the Mexican movement against the drug war, and investigative journalist Alphonce Shiundu, will be joining us again from Kenya to share the teaching in this workgroup (both from the class of 2011). Chiapas-based book editor Katherine Faydash – she edited Narco News’ 2007 book on the Oaxaca popular assembly movement, will be a new addition to this workgroup team, as well the Tucson, Arizona journalist Mari Herreras, who attended our October workshop in New York. Noticing her talent, and the way her sharp mind works, we immediately picked Mari up on waivers to bring to the school.
We’ll be ringing each of these workgroups with the above-mentioned presenters on civil resistance and strategic journalism to teach and learn these crafts. And for 2012 we’re creating a new event for the School of Authentic Journalism: breakout sessions where scholars can spend more quality time learning, in smaller groups, with these people of such vast and historic experiences. So if you’re going to apply for this scholarship, understand that the School will be a 24-hour full-time commitment from Wednesday, March 21 at 6 p.m. to Saturday, March 31, at noon.
Johanna Lawrenson, at the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism, surprised by a birthday cake, with Mercedes Osuna. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
You may have also heard that we play hard, too, at the School. Guilty as charged! Our social directors, Tiberio Tinarelli and Maia Facen, mix the finest mojito on earth and host our evening plenary sessions, where we tend to discuss the more philosophical and ethical concerns that confront authentic journalists when reporting alongside social movements. Also on our staff again will be Johanna Lawrenson (this week would have been the 75th birthday of her late husband, Abbie Hoffman) who showed me, at a young age, what happens when veterans of making history coach and guide those of us just starting out: It is that experience to which I owe the very idea of this school, if only to give back what they and others so generously gave to me.
And me? I’m the organizer, the stage director, and a floating professor between each of our workgroups, a defector from commercial media who publishes Narco News, writes and reports when inspired, sometimes has to best narco-bankers in libel suits, studies the strategies and tactics of successful struggles, and works each day to rise up new ringleaders who will someday take my place at this work.
School of Authentic Journalism founder Al Giordano at the October workshop on Journalism and Civil Resistance in New York. DR 2011 Quetzal Belmont.
Now, I’d like to address you over there: Yes, you, in the corner, the one who just read about all these amazing people coming together in one place and is thinking, “I’d love to be there, but I’m not experienced enough, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve it, and they’ll never pick me anyway.” Are you sure about that? We’re not looking for people who think they already know it all and just want to pick our pockets for new “contacts” and “career moves.” We learn better and better each year how to sniff those opportunists out or dispatch with them quickly when they bare their mercenary teeth. If you think you have things to learn from this school, and really want to go out and do good work with the knowledge and experience we give, you are exactly who we seek. We have taken on scholars who had zero journalistic experience, from the ages of 17 to 65, and today they are among the best in the vocation. We’ve also taken on very experienced people and made them better, faster and more coherent at this work. We pick a mix of people with varying levels of experience from different lands and situations. We’re not looking for 40 of the same person, but, rather, 40 distinct human beings.
What we do expect from all scholars is that you understand that learning how the strategic dynamics of social movements happen is equally as important to being a good journalist as learning how to use a camera, edit video, write a news story, and make it “go viral.” They are all tools in the same chest and they depend on each other to get anything real accomplished in this world. There is not a “civil resistance curriculum” and a “journalism curriculum.” It is all one unified approach. Part of that is because journalism is in crisis, and authentic journalism is itself a movement, and we’re only going to keep succeeding if we stay one step ahead in studying and understanding how successful struggles are waged.
So don’t be shy: write to firstname.lastname@example.org for an application in English (or, for a Spanish-language application: email@example.com). Open it and read it right away, because that will give you an idea of how much time and work you’ll need to put into doing it well, and then schedule the time you need to do so (we recommend at least two days) between now and the December 28 deadline. “Do or do not, there is no try.” With hard work and a little luck, you may be on your way to Mexico in March, but that’s only the beginning of the journey…