The Narco News Bulletin
July 20, 2018 | Issue #67
narconews.com - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America
It's been fifteen years since some friends and I, including the late Gary Webb (1954-2004), invented and launched the School of Authentic Journalism as our response to a clamor from young people who were asking - via email, then a relatively young form of communication - to come work with me at Narco News.
We had just won the landmark lawsuit - Banamex v Mario Menendez, Al Giordano and Narco News - that established the earliest First Amendment protections for Internet journalists in US case law.
I was 42, of bountiful health, crisscrossing the hemisphere thousands of miles each year - sometimes each month - reporting from Latin America's most newsworthy conflict zones and regions.
Gary Webb and Al Giordano
Before this message is done, I'm going to ask you to pledge - as generously as you can - to the School of Authentic Journalism's 2017 Kickstarter campaign. We have only a little more than a week to raise another $15,000 (we're only halfway there) and meet the goal. If you and others do not rise to the moment and meet the goal, none of your pledges will be collected, the Fund for Authentic Journalism will not receive them, and the school will not happen this year.
If you already know you are going to pledge, and you don't need to hear my pitch,
here is the link. Please click it and pledge right now.
Only this treatment can buy me more years. Without it (thanks, Obama) I'd be facing fairly rapid death. Realities like that make life's priorities crystal clear. Mine is that the School of Authentic Journalism survive and thrive.
If a 2017 school can't happen, I wonder: Have I attended and taught at the final one already?
Watching, checking daily to see if enough good people have responded and pledged, waiting to find out if my life's work still enjoys enough support from the international community that I've reported for, organized, trained, written to, learned from, shared with, cajoled and provoked all these years, to sustain it even while I'm at least temporarily disabled, is, well, a bit agonizing to say the least.
Over the past fifteen years my greatest pleasure - and most important work - has been training younger people to do this work through the School of Authentic Journalism. I've passed on my experiences of investigative reporting, safety in conflict zones (not just for journalists but for the communities we report from), resisting and confronting corruption, avoiding the lazy "pack journalism" that merely follows the crowd - the knowledge I've learned from those experiences - and, of course, the skills: clear writing, compelling camera and microphone work, scripting video to go "viral," navigating the rowdy Wild West frontier of the Internet, effective investigation, public speaking and so much more.
The most valuable lessons I've learned - and share - are not taught in traditional journalism schools: Nobody teaches the strategy of journalism any more!
How can a journalist tell if his or her work is making a difference? How can we assure that it does? When reporting on social movements and worthy causes, how can we bypass the proverbial road to hell that is paved with good intentions to help - and never harm - a worthy movement's chances for success.
I don't practice or teach "objective journalism." I never have. The term itself is a lie. Anybody who tells you he is objective at reporting is either being knowingly dishonest to you or is so gracelessly unaware of his or her own limitations that he and she are not worth following at all. Every journalist I've ever met is human. Therefore, by definition, none of us are objective or even capable of it for a New York minute.
At the same time, I've practiced and taught that while it's vital to choose a side and disclose it, the pitfalls of pamphleteering, sloganeering and dogma must be painstakingly avoided. A journalist must also be fair and scrupulously honest. An authentic journalist avoids the cheap and easy shot that misinforms and manipulates to instead do the heavy lifting that build long-term trust from the reader, viewer or listener. Journalists who seek to change our communities or the world and help others do so have to unlearn so many of the bad assumptions that most of the profession has so unthinkingly adopted.
My late mentor Abbie Hoffman told me, when I was 21, "There is no greater high than challenging the power structure, giving it your all, and winning."
As I look back at my life since then I can confirm that he was right. Nothing has been so satisfying as the victories. I feel blessed to have been part of so many.
Similarly, there's almost no worse feeling than devoting our blood, sweat and tears to a cause only to see it fail. Most of us have had that experience - far more than have been part of an organized triumph. Defeats can be soul crushing. They foster resignation, apathy, depression and worse.
Victories, on the other hand, are entirely, blissfully, the opposite! Winning foments lifelong commitment, action, smiles, optimism and more victories to come. When we have won before we know then in our core that we can win again and again!
Al Giordano and Abbie Hoffman. Photo DR 1983 by Leslie Desmond.
Why else would any sane person take on the hard work of public life - whether in journalism or organizing - and invite the slings and arrows, the envies and resentments that come with it? (Those molestations appear especially when one becomes successful at a venture in any way.) I've never done any of this to be able to convince myself I'm a "good" or "superior" person. I know I'm not. I've only ever been in this to make the changes I have set out to make... to close the nuclear power plant, to stop the mega-project from destroying a community, to pry the overzealous prosecutor's hands from power, to end tyrannical policies like the drug war, to free the new frontier of the Internet for all and not just for a few.
The adrenaline - the "high" that Abbie referenced - has been in those battles. But the most lasting change, in my experience, happens person to person, one at a time, and in the context of a community that allows and embraces that process. That's what the School of Authentic Journalism has become: the place that creates the space in which new generations are inspired and equipped to continue doing this work after previous generations have passed on.
Of course, it's not - not yet - a place with a year-round campus. We've never enjoyed those kinds of resources. For fifteen years, it's been a nomadic school. It's happened on the shores of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, in Bolivia's corner of the Amazon jungle, in Central Mexico's mountains, in the bustle of downtown Madrid, in the serenity of the Berkshire Mountains, in downtown New York City and it's continued wherever its more than 500 graduates have come together to do the work we learned there.
Whether it happens again in 2017 is all on this Kickstarter campaign and whether it rises or falls between now and next Friday.
Even in these months since being diagnosed with a life threatening illness, I have not asked you for anything for me. Subscribers to my "América" newsletter and Obamacare have already made this treatment toward a full cure possible. But what of the school? Even should the treatment go well, what do I have to go home to if the school doesn't survive what has already been my too-long absence? Worse, what about the young journalist or communicator or organizer who needs and seeks its training? What do I tell him and her if we cannot secure the funds this year to bring them in?
Don't make me answer that question, please, I beg of you. Click this link right now and make your pledge today (and if you've already pledged, thank you so much).
Your pledge is about the "we" that we will next become. Only together can we get there.
This letter was first published yesterday to subscribers of the "Al Giordano's América" newsletter that goes to donors of $70 to the Fund for Authentic Journalism in the same calendar year. The subscription is also offered as a gift in exchange for pledge of that amount to the current Kickstarter campaign.