The Authentic 25
What Our Students Are Saying
By Al Giordano
December 2, 2002
Next February, 25 students will join with the faculty of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Their mission: to report the news to you, kind readers, from América’s first drug legalization summit in Mérida.
You’ll be getting to know them better in the coming weeks and months. Their ranks include specialists in print, TV, radio and Internet journalism, from South, Central and North América, with boatloads of commitment, energy and creativity, too.
Here are some brief sketches to introduce you to The Authentic 25: Seven full scholarship winners and 18 partial scholarship winners, who will be your eyes and ears next February as they cover the “OUT FROM THE SHADOWS: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century” summit and, in addition, report about their own journalism education so that you, too, can attend the courses, online.
Alex Contreras, 39
Writer, photographer, TV and radio producer, father, teacher, biographer, Alex does it all. Each morning, he broadcasts the “Todos Notícias” (“All News”) program from Radio San Rafael in Cochabamba. Each afternoon, he coordinates the “Primero de Mayo” school founded by internationally renowned labor leader Oscar Olivera. By night, he is finishing a four-year project: his biography of coca growers leader Evo Morales. His two previous books, “La Marcha Historica” (“The Historic March”), 1994, and “”Mujeres cocaleras marchando por una vida sin violencia” (“Women Coca Growers Marching for a Life Without Violence”), 1996, were also on the issues of the drug war. He is fluent in Spanish and knows some Quechua.
“In some media organizations, free speech has been exchanged for a species of ‘licentiousness of expression,’ in which some journalists – without any ethical standards – give priority to the messages of their owners before those of the population and its free speakership.
“This kind of press, led, oriented and with individual or group goals, doesn’t take into account the objectives of communication. Another kind of journalist, more and more, fights major problems in his daily labor of informing because when a media has a bigger audience, there are more obstacles for the journalist. Also, a media organization and the labor of journalists should not be receiving favors from the advertising industry: There are cases in which new programs are already not determined by the importance of a subject but, rather, by the priorities of the advertisers.”
Blanca Eekhout, 32
Born in Acarigua, in state of Portuguesa, Venezula, Blanca is the coordinator of her country’s longest running project in Authentic Journalism: the 25-year-old Community Television station Catia TV. At the forefront of the movement that succeeded in the legalization of non-profit, non-partisan community TV and radio stations (making Venezuela the nation to author the landmark legislation that now must be enacted in all other lands), Blanca has been an effective international spokesperson for this movement from Washington to New York to Algeria. I met Blanca last June when she co-hosted a five-hour live broadcast of “Alo Presidente!” with President Hugo Chávez in her neighborhood of Catia, in Caracas, dedicated to the issue of Community Media. Blanca has a degree in cinema from the School of Arts at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. In the essential spirit of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, this student has a lot to teach us all. She is fluent in Spanish.
“There is another factor that marked my necessity to communicate, a terrible, painful, factor, perhaps the most difficult of my life: The ferocious attack against our peaceful search for justice. Forty-eight hours of fascist dictatorship, which made us understand, that the long night of these fifty years is still not over. And it obliges us to try and elevate our cry to all the peoples of the world. For the Latin American people, now more than ever, communicating is an unavoidable task. We are united not only by a common past and present, but by the absolute certainty of a united destiny.”
Elizabeth Flores, 22
Mexico City, Mexico
Elizabeth – her friends call her Zabeth – was a popular TV journalist throughout Mexico during the past year with the national daily “youth news” program, Contenido Neto, “Net Content,” that in spite of (or because of) its wide popularity and reputation as the most honest TV news program in a country where the rest of what passes as “TV news” is a bad joke, was cancelled this past month by CNI TV-40.
The TV station’s loss is now our gain: Zabeth, 22, works for El Universal, the largest daily newspaper in Mexico City, as an English-Spanish translator and contributor. She’s a talented prose writer and editor, student of literature at the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM) and is fast becoming fluent, as well, in Portuguese and French. She discovered Narco News through our coverage, in Spring 2001, of the Zapatista Caravan, in which she, like many millions of human beings, participated.
Zabeth was the first student to be awarded the full scholarship, last September, as an example held high of the quality of students we sought. Looking, now, upon the other 24 members of the Class of February 2003 of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, her example served the cause excellently, and helped us to recruit the rest of the all-star student body that are being introduced to you, kind readers, today.
Carola Mittrany, 23
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Born in Lima, Peru, Carola is Brazilian correspondent and editor with the EFE news agency of Spain, and director of a documentary (in post-production) about coca in Bolivia, “La Hoja Maldita” (“That Damn Leaf”). The world premier of that documentary will be held during the sessions of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism next February. A photographer who develops her own photos, she has lived in Mexico City and Villahermosa, Tabasco; in Texas; in Lima and Talara, Perú; and in various Brazilian cities and towns. “I’ve never crossed the Atlantic or Pacific,” she notes, but she’s also worked and traveled in Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Canada, Guatemala, Venezuela, Chile and Argentina. She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, English and French, and has worked as a translator of subtitles for television, cinema and video.
“Monday, 7 a.m. My workday begins. 7:07, Elections in Israel set for January 28th; 7:07, the Chinese Army proclaims its loyalty to the Communist Party; 7:11, Liberals Kerry and Pelosi, new faces of the Democratic Party; 7:14, Chávez believes in the opposition’s coherence to begin negotiations; 7:17, US sends military advisors, specialists in terrorism, to the Philippines; 7:20, Al-Jazeera correspondent arrested in Jordan; 7:21… 7:23… 7:24… 7:25… 7:26… 7:26… Arrghhh… Enough already!
“I left college wanting to do something different and ended up in a sausage factory. My desire for something authentic turned into spending eight hours a day, five days a week, one weekend per month, in a newsroom seated in front of a digital screen… Twelve computers, people coming and going in shifts… Good morning, good afternoon, good night, see you tomorrow, and the hum of keypads that doesn’t stop for 24 hours a day. At the end of the shift one is totally spent. The brain fatigues with so much information.
“The mind begins to hum together with the keypads. Ideas are lost and confused. Where was the earthquake? In Italy, yes, but now it’s the volcano in Ecuador that we must cover. Forget about the buried children. What interests us now are the ashes and the suspended classes. How many Palestinians died today at the hands of the Israeli army? Three? No, there were five. It doesn’t matter. Real time is, in reality, unreal time. It’s not Pedro or Juan who were inside the house when the tank knocked it down. It’s numbers and statistics that don’t stop…
“From where do these stories that I edit come from? Rome, Ankara, Buenos Aires, it doesn’t matter. And where do they go. Now I really am lost. In five minutes, they could be on television. The next day, they could be in the newspaper: a photo, some modifications, nothing more. News is produced and reproduced without rest. Only the month, the day and the hour change: the issues are the same. Day after day, story after story, the banalization of the human being brought to the extreme by technology. We’re not people anymore, just social security numbers, statistics, and credit cards. What more is there?
“No. I believe in a solution, in an alternative. Another world is possible. Why not? It wasn’t always this way. Why should we continue to accept it? The press brought us liberty… the world at one’s fingertips. What a tremendous illusion!
“Revolution is not only necessary, it is urgent. We cannot lose more time. Like Kapucinski, I also believe that this is not a job for cynics. We have to give our all. We cannot permit ourselves to be passive anymore. The revolution calls on us to act. That’s the only way another world will be possible. Let’s go, there’s work to be done.”
Ava Salazar, 18
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Ava was 16 when she traveled the length of the Zapatista Caravan from La Realidad to Mexico City in early 2001, as part of her home schooling education. A writer and photographer and artist, she studied with the legendary poet, ex-con and youth worker Jimmy Santiago Baca. She works odd jobs, saves her money, and then frequently returns to Mexico to cover, photograph and participate in the indigenous and social movements rising in her ancestral country of 100 million people. She is fluent in English and Spanish.
“Revolution pumps vivaciously through the veins of my ancestry. My great grandfather is El General José Inéz Salazar de la Revolución Mexicana de 1910. My parents taught me to never forget the history of my past, and never lose hope for the future…
“Media created Bubblegum Politics after we embraced the idea of ‘inherent human weakness.’ We clink to this seemingly unaccountable escape from reality. Under the guise of ‘human weakness,’ we indulge in ignorant democracy, beautiful slavery, and eloquent hypocrisy… media junkies, understanding through words and photos, too busy to comprehend through experience…. We must create an active alternative to the fermenting promises and the weak excuses that media feeds us. Immediate language will spring from immediate action… We must create history, fulfill our responsibility to humanity and speak through action. It is our duty to incite action and participate with ruthless integrity, never simply report it. We will take a stand, speak the truth, and burst Media’s bubble.”
Adam Saytanides, 32, Chicago, United States
Adam is about to graduate this month from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where, as one of his professors told Narco News, “we don’t get very many students like Adam here.” His passion for Authentic Journalism and social justice has led him to report Latin American and Latino news in detail for the Progressive, In These Times, Radio Bilingüe and Pacifica Radio, and he authored a nationally syndicated column for Hispanic Link. He’s also worked as a construction worker, carpenter and farmworker. He is fluent in English.
“The first thing we notice when we get to be ‘behind the scenes,’ so to speak, is that the form of reality transmitted to us through established media rarely captures the essence of what it was like to be there in person…
“As a mere mortal, it’s hard to know how or where to begin to unravel this whole mess. But that doesn’t stop me from trying, or you folks either. Like you, I believe the political arena is probably the best place to start, and have concentrated my efforts there. Because without a rapid growth in the public’s understanding of how power is veiled, filtered, and exercised, there will never come a day when folks can effectively change or challenge the powers that be. And our collective human potential will continue to be squandered unless that kind of dramatic change can ever come about. As formidable and impossible a challenge as it seems, I think that’s what ‘authentic’ journalists are all about.”
Pablo Serrano, 25, Tunja, Colombia
The founder and webmaster of the Committee for a New Colombia, Pablo is an Authentic Journalism Renaissance Man: He writes, he reports, he investigates, he develops his own photographs (two of his photo exhibits – one documenting daily life with the FARC in Colombia, another on urban street graffiti in that country – have already toured the United States), he hosts radio programs, he produces video documentaries (he’s currently in Venezuela working on one) and he does website design. With dual citizenship in the United States and his native Colombia, he has worked extensively out of San Francisco – where he attends San Francisco State University – and Washington DC, as well as various Latin American outposts. “I was forced out of my country at the age of ten and found myself in the U.S.,” he explains, then in understatement: “Since then I have been staying busy.” He is fluent in Spanish and English.
“In recent weeks I have been in Caracas, Venezuela where I have been able to witness firsthand the real situation that is being reported by mainstream media on a national and international level. From Colombia, where I was for the last two months, the same media has reported that the opposition to Hugo Chavez Frias is huge, or at least half of the population. When you travel to ‘La Plaza de Francia’ in Altamira (a very bourgie part of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela), where the opposition is gathered to do all of its media stunts, you can see very clearly that there is not even a full plaza. On the other hand when I went into the ‘barrios populares’ or working class poor neighborhoods there was not one sign of media coverage. In the barrios that I visited I have documented the huge amount of organizing that is going on to build community and build a movement able to change the social/economic situation that has ruined Venezuela for the past forty years. These are the same barrios, whose population constitutes the vast majority, that have flooded the streets to support Hugo Chavez and the social/political process that has the oligarchy using its media to try and save itself. There are many other examples of the media being used to support the social political economic system that rule the world almost as a whole.”
Meet the rest of our class of 25 students…
the 18 partial scholarship recipients:
Sunny Angulo, 22
San Francisco, California, United States
Sunny is a talented radio voice on 93.7 FM, where silence ruled before real people took the dormant frequency back and established SFLiberation Radio (she’s the voice of the news program on Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. and produces three more nights a week of the news) and hosts “The Anti-Brunch” – a “punk/riot grrrrrrl’ program – on Sunday mornings. She also hosts a program on KUSF Radio 90.3, dedicated to the juncture of art and politics. Sonny works with the San Francisco IndyMedia Center, in the audio and video collectives and the outreach committee. “These don’t pay,” she writes to Narco News, while penning her application from the encampment in Fort Benning, Georgia, outside the US Military’s nefarious School of the Americas, “but they’re the ones I enjoy.” Her primary language: English.
“When I couldn’t articulate the frustrations with my profession and the higher education system, when I couldn’t break through, suddenly there was a word for what I was looking for: ‘Authentic Journalism.’ Authentic! THIS was it! And it was all laid out in Authentic Journalism 101 – finally a course I could stomach, that I could actually USE…”
“My grandfather immigrated to the US from Colombia when he was 19, leaving behind an entire family in a country at war with itself, to the point where he has not been back to visit in 10 years, because he fears for his life and the those of his loved ones. Plan Colombia and the US’s complicity in the raping of a once-rich and fertile country have become almost obsessive issues for me…”
“As a DJ that works at the largest pirate radio station in the Bay Area, that continues to grow in diversity and as a community institution, I am fully in agreement with ‘firing back’ at media using its own weapons. These weapons were ours to begin with! …I want my airwaves back, so I’ve decided to take them. And now you can’t stop me. Because the television is next, and then the papers and then the schools, and then the government, so you better look out, because the world is not just watching anymore. The whole world is LISTENING, too. And they’re listening to stations like SFLR all over the world, and they’re springing up just as fast as the faceless entities like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can shut them down.”
Andrea Arenas, 22
La Paz, Bolivia
Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Andrea is a student of social communications at the Universidad Catolica Boliviana in La Paz, is a creative radio producer of dramas that express the daily problems faced by peasant farmers and musical jingles, last year, that championed the campaign of coca growers leader Evo Morales. She is a keen student of the Bolivian situation regarding the drug war and democracy. A graduate of the Colegio Americano, she is fluent in Spanish and English.
“One of the facts that has most inspired me to be a good journalist is that of how they manipulated the information about the attacks of September 11th in New York. The mass media in the United States manipulated the world public, provoking, in me, just nausea. I would prefer that my reports would not be manipulated in any way, and that’s why I would like to be a journalist who is capable of questioning the facts as they are, at their true depth, and to see them in a global context.”
“I believe that journalism receives its life from the ability to express opinions, to question, to accuse. By depriving the ability to do this, one kills the essence of journalism. I think if any theme results to be offensive to somebody it is because it has reached the gist of the matter.”
Alex Bardales, 22
Aliso Viejo, California
Patrick “Murph” McMahon, 21
Aliso Viejo, California
We’re inviting these two journalism students of the Soka School of America, where Alex and Murph participate in an innovative online journalism project – a “blog” – upon which they post their reports and their professor – the legendary Authentic Journalist Joe McGinniss (author of “The Selling of the President” and other important books) – offers ruthless critique, questions and commentary on their work. Alex is Fluent in English and Spanish. Murph speaks English and is studying Spanish.
“It was during Joe McGinniss’ class when I realized I had a talent for writing a story in a clear and logical style. And while I still had a lot to learn in terms of journalistic ethics, practices, etc., Joe’s 30-plus years of real world journalism was a tremendous resource. I still remember the harsh criticisms he occasionally gave for my writing – they sounded exactly like ‘Izzy Stone’s’ response to the CJR kid who wrote the profile on Giordano.”
“One of the things I am most interested in taking away from this 10 day class is how a journalist can independently publish and support himself doing it (if he doesn’t happen to have chops on a Dobro). Narco News has enlivened and inspired my commitment to journalism, but a part of me is afraid that it is nearly impossible for someone to do this and pay the bills. (The media – and schools – are adept at instilling fear of failure, aren’t they?)”
Check out their journalism blog:
Ana Cernov, 26
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Ana is a writer, researcher, former reporter for the Gazeta Mercantil, a major Brazilian business newspaper, has published her work in the daily Folha de São Paulo, and is now completing masters degree at Pontificia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP). She has corresponded with Narco News since we began in 2000, and authored a commentary for us on the Brazilian elections last October. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
“The media has become an institution of power, like the ones we fight so much to change. As long as journalists don’t re-think their position, media is going to be just another power depository.”
“If you give a thought to the saying ‘Information is power,’ you are led to believe that journalists should be guerrillas. Their job should be to reveal and expose whatever bad usage of the State that is being made by governments. People forget that the State is not something natural: we created it. The government only exists because we decided this was the easiest way to have a community live… My power is what gives the State its strength, but I can collect it back anytime…it’s mine!”
Andrea Daugirdas, 24
New York City, United States
Andrea is a writer, photographer, and radio reporter, currently finishing masters degree at Fordham University through a full scholarship from the New York City Teaching Fellows Program (she teaches public school students in the Bronx). She’s a graduate of New York University’s Draper School and also attended the University of Havana in Cuba. Andrea was assistant producer of WBAI radio’s “Our Americas” program and an intern at CNBC News for “Geraldo Rivera Live.” She covered the Zapatista Caravan in Mexico in 2001, producing a short video on the event, and helped organize the “Drug War on Trial” Narco News defense fund benefit in New York later that year. She is fluent in English and Lithuanian, and speaks some Spanish.
“I’m constantly torn between my ideals and the seduction of all I have been socialized to believe. I will never be a vegan who only wears hand-made clothing from the hemp I grew in my backyard garden. But, I have made it my responsibility to take the ‘buzzwords and soundbites’ mentioned in ‘The Political Illusion’ and understand what they really mean, how they directly, many times monumentally and violently, change the every day lives of people we never hear about. An obvious example for me has been NAFTA and the indigenous people of Mexico.
“As a journalist, I want to take these terms so oft-tossed about – like NAFTA, welfare reform, trade sanctions – and restore their meaning by relaying these stories. And I’m also optimistic that a population as brainwashed and ignorant as the American public would pick up on these issues and be moved by them in a way that I have.”
Laura del Castillo Matamoros, 22
Laura works as a production assistant at City TV (a station owned by the daily El Tiempo), and is in her last semester as a communications student at Fundación Universidad Central de Bogotá, which she describes as “the worst nightmare of my life.” She is fluent in Spanish, and studying English at the National University of Colombia.
“If there is a kind of speech that I find offensive it’s that which the police and military use. By nature, it’s a violent discourse in which they consider community leaders, social investigators and, in general, anyone on the margins of the system to be “bandoleros” (their favorite word) or terrorists…
“I admire Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and the other figures of what was called in North America the New Journalism. Here in Colombia, there are very few who I admire: For example, Antonio Cabellero (for his ability to criticize and his caustic sense of humor) and Silvia Duzán who was assassinated some years ago by paramilitaries after she reported on the campesinos of Carare. She was also the first journalist to report on the youth culture in Colombia…”
-Laura del Castillo Matamoros
See Laura’s Essay, “Junkies of Technology,” here:
Noah Friedman-Rudovsky, 26
Brooklyn, New York, United States
A writer and photography teacher, Noah has published photos in the New York Times and does freelance reporting for various magazines. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he also spent a semester at Universidad Mayor de San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia. He first caught our attention here in the Narco Newsroom on November 3, 2000, when he published a letter to the editor in the New York Times about a particularly ridiculous story (even for the Times) by Clifford Kraus trumpeting a resort for the wealthy in Bolivia’s Chapare region. Noah wrote:
“It is disappointing that after a month of fierce protests and strikes, intense militarization, deadly confrontations and disappearances — and on the same day that Bolivia’s Catholic Church and the state human rights office denounced torture in the region — your article turns our attention toward a fledgling resort project. It is misleading to speak of peace, tranquillity and future golf courses in a region surrounded by 10,000 troops and home to a radical and organized peasantry…”
In February 2001, Noah’s New York black-and-white photo exhibit, “Silver/Sugar/Water: Labor and Production in Bolivia,” which included work he photographed by descending into the depths of a silver mine in the state of Potosí. City Limits magazine compared his work to that of “the great Brazilian economist-turned-documentary-photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who over the past decades has re-energized the legacy of socially committed documentary photography so prevalent in the 1930s.”
One of Noah’s qualities that is so important to the Authentic Journalism Renaissance is his clear zest for learning from the people he reports on (and those whom he photographs), arriving to foreign lands with the spirit of an authentic student, casting aside the over-socialization of the cultural superiority complexes so prevalent in the developed world and especially in the United States in order to be able to enter, and report accurately, the essence of a news story as told by the people who live it. He is fluent in Spanish and English, and knows a bit of Quechua, too.
“After studying in Bolivia and working for the English-language Bolivian Times newspaper (for the infamous Peter MacFarren), I got a grant to research the social costs of US drug war policy in Bolivia. For a year I soaked up everything that had been written on the topic and finally, in July of 1999, I headed to the Chapare. Human rights organizations in Cochabamba, cocalero leaders Evo Morales, Leonilda Zurita, and others, took me under their wing and showed me the Chapare reality. I spent weeks interviewing dirigentes and ‘base members’ in the Federations.
Obviously, I found a different world from that described by the many government officials and ‘experts’ I had interviewed… The cocaleros spoke powerfully about the awakening they have experienced from years of educating themselves by deconstructing the dominant state/media account of the conflict. I found that their most empowering tool in resisting repression has been their efforts to develop their own language to describe the conflict and to communicate their ‘unofficial’ story.”
Ashley Kennedy, 33
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Ashley is a writer, photographer, editor, agitator and mom who is a frequent contributor to controversial magazines from High Times to Hustler to Adult Video News. Her prose is funny, sarcastic, exhaustively reported, and we’d frankly like to see her talented and unique style published in Narco News. She is fluent in English, French and German, and has some knowledge of Spanish.
“The correlations are undeniable, yet some feminists and heads just don’t get it… First and foremost, smut and sativa embody the American struggle for freedom from ‘orifice legislation.’ The government should not have the right to regulate what consenting adults willingly put into their orifices, whether it’s a joint, a penis, a pot brownie or a fist. If it feels good and nobody gets hurt, what’s the big deal? Everyone should have the right to pursue harmless pleasure, self-expression and profit without facing dire social repercussions and legal consequences.”
“At its best, journalism is brutal and dirty and dangerous. At its best, it shines the light of public accountability on Truth. At its worst, it is trite, shamelessly contrived and trivial, constructed only to feed the ego, or worse, to further the agendas of those who wish to extort the reader for loyalty, money or indemnity. When the writer fails to wrap his or her mind around a subject, explore it like a lover with passion, conviction and awe, and present it to the masses as fully and adamantly as he humanly can, he abets those who would treat the word like a commodity or a conspiratorial tool. He, as a journalist, has failed.”
Helena Klang, 23
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Helena is a student of journalism at Universidade Estácio de Sá, and a member of the production team at Globo TV. She is co-producing, with our Full Scholarship recipient Carola Mittrany, a documentary on drug prohibition and the coca plant, “A Fohla Maldita” (“That Damn Leaf”) which will be featured in its world premier during the February sessions of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism. She is fluent in Portuguese and Hebrew, capable in Spanish and English.
“The question of narco-trafficking is urgent in all of Latin America. In Brazil, it causes a situation of calamity. Recently, drug trafficking has shown its power, obligating all the businesses in the southern zone of Rio de Janeiro, including Copacabana, to close their doors as a reprisal against the military police… My university campus is located between four large ‘favelas’ and I constantly fear stray bullets and traffickers that invade the classrooms to hide. Living with narco-trafficking has been a constant in my reality, and that’s why I’ve decided to do my treatise on the legalization of drugs, my personal solution for destroying the power of narco-trafficking and ending the violence.”
“The idea of the documentary surged out of a curiosity to understand the beginning of the chain of production. We decided, Carol and I, to enter the Bolivian reality and discover whether there was any real possibility of ending drug trafficking by destroying the coca leaf… What we realized is that coca has been judged as a grand infamy of history, when, at the root, it has been a grand victim. It represents the cultural identity of a poor and vulnerable country, and possesses a millenarian importance that doesn’t have anything to do with cocaine. We spoke with the United States Embassy to ask about the policies of combat against drug trafficking, the eradication of coca, and we took note of the cruel prepotency by the U.S. government…
“We went into the area of Chimoré and were stopped by a blockade in the road. The coca growers called upon the Army to stop coming and destroying their farms. Old women carried the plant and shouted at those who do not respect it. We followed the army and saw many soldiers, boys, who pulled the plant up by the root and did not understand that they were pulling up the roots of their own culture…”
Reed Lindsay, 27
born in New York, reporting from Buenos Aires, Argentina
An email arrived in the mid-winter of our first year of the Narco Newsroom, from a young staff member of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (Coha), one of the only human rights or Latin America monitoring groups in Washington, DC, whose leaders are not infatuated with rubbing elbows with power and having an illusory seat at the State Department’s table. Since we admire COHA, we found this young man’s letter intriguing.
The letter was from Reed Lindsay, who, having already learned the nuts and bolts of Latin American geo-politics from COHA’s legendary Larry Birns, wanted to learn the practice of journalism by doing it in Latin America… and did we have any job to offer him at Narco News? “Well, um, no, actually, we’re being sued by narco-bankers and can’t even pay the phone bill,” I answered, at which point he offered to call on his nickel.
A lot of beginning journalists want to do a lot of things. They have dreams, but they wait for a “job” or for “permission” from institutions to do it. Reed Lindsay didn’t wait. He headed off to Mexico City, polished up his Spanish, soon got himself a job at the English-language newspaper there, did some good reports (some of which we linked to on Narco News), got sick of that paper (like most good journalists do) and then moved on, again… this time to Argentina, where he works as an independent freelance journalist.
The Authentic Journalist doesn’t sit around waiting for orders from headquarters. He and she just get out there and do it. That’s what Reed did. It’s going to be a thrill to finally be able to give him a “job” (at least for ten days) that we weren’t able to offer him or anybody in our salad days as an online newspaper. Reed is fluent in English and Spanish.
“Journalists are often reduced to a role slightly above the level of a stenographer, producing nothing new or creative, instead paraphrasing the actions and speeches of the economically and politically powerful. It also demonstrates how journalists allow their perspectives to be distorted by closing themselves off from important sectors of society, just as the policymakers they cover stay within the bubble-like environment of gated communities and five-star hotels, isolated from the very people who will be affected by their decisions. When they’re not spending time behind the computer screen and at press conferences, they are having their opinions reinforced by each other and others like them both at work and socially.
“Even when foreign correspondents here produce feature pieces about normal people, I’ve observed that their focus is overwhelmingly centered on the experiences of the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires. Out of both choice and obligation, most correspondents rarely venture beyond the city limits to report from the poorer provinces. Even the slum-filled suburbs of Buenos Aires, the most populous area of the country, are practically unknown to many foreign correspondents. Their professional lives are demarcated by their all-devouring careerist goals, by their aspirations to advance upward in the journalist pyramid to better-paying jobs with sweeter benefits and greater prestige. The New York Times is revered as the summit of this ascent, which implies a definite limit on the capacity for criticism. Even something so egregious as the NY Times coverage of the Venezuela coup, fails to provoke outrage among them.”
Dan Malakoff, 23
Washington, DC, United States
Dan is a journalist, researcher, and writer of short stories and fiction, too, He is a Melman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, collaborating with the AFL-CIO in a project for which he interviews exiled Colombian labor leaders. A graduate of Boston University, he collaborated with Narco News Associate Publisher and webmaster Dan Feder in the construction of the student newspaper that swept the Campus Alternative Journalism Awards last year, awarded by the Independent Journalism Association. He is fluent in English with a working knowledge of Spanish.
“Behind our journalism is protest. We aim with this paper to get every individual questioning. We want you to interrogate yourself; to interrogate your friends; to interrogate BU; to interrogate Boston; to interrogate the government—your government; to interrogate the society—your society; to interrogate abstract notions like freedom and equality; to interrogate us—the journalists. This is protest, though matured, directive… We all protest—if we didn’t, we’d explode. From tantrums to cursing a teacher, fistfights to long aimless walks, from talking behind someone’s back to refusing to care when it’s your back, we protest. We do these things not to be subversive, but so we don’t succumb to the strain of living…”
25, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Vivian writes for the monthly magazine OCAS (Civil Organization for Social Action), distributed by the homeless of Rio (much like the “street papers” common in some cities of the U.S.). A photojournalist, she’s created photo essays of the San Marta “favela” (neighborhood) and about the old commercial street “Saara.” She says, “I believe that photojournalism can have as much power of communication as words.” She was photographer for the magazine of the Communications Department at the Pontíficia Universidad Católica (PUC) in Rio, from where she will graduate next June. Her day job is in the research and development department of Globosat, the cable TV arm of the media giant Globo, where she is responsible for the GMT channel featuring journalism and documentaries. She is fluent in Portuguese and Hebrew, with working knowledge of Spanish, English and German.
“Ten years ago if someone had said that in the future someone in Brazil would be able to ‘chat’ with someone in Australia by means of a screen, we would have thought they were speaking of a fictional screenplay. Time has passed and the appearance of the Internet has cause a change in how people behave. The computer has changed relations between people. It’s nothing exceptional, now, to see employees in an office, seated near one another, communicating by email or ‘chat’ in conversations that permit people to create their own identities. Everyone is now free to introduce them selves as blonde and beautiful… Cyberspace permits the total simulation of an identity… Like all inventions, the Internet creates advantages and problems. The important thing is to not fall in the trap of accommodation from the ease that technology brings.”
Ricardo Sala, 34
Mexico City, Mexico
In a few short years, Ricardo Sala has set his native metropolis on fire with a drug policy reform movement – mainly coming from the youth and artists of Mexico City – where before there was none.
He began with an Internet publication – vivecondrogas.com – which means “Live With Drugs,” a play on narco-media TV Azteca’s hypocritical “Live Without Drugs” campaign that inundates television viewers throughout Mexico with false messages of fear and distortion. Vivecondrogas.com announced to Mexico and the world that “drug are here to stay: Learn how to live with them,” and advocates “a positive culture of drugs” to reduce the harms associated with them:
“This site is dedicated to the communicators. To the authentic communicators, those committed to their environment, those who convoke their audiences to participate… The name used by the campaign of Mexico’s TV Azteca, ‘Live Without Drugs,’ is superficially well-intentioned, but embodies the current crisis in the mass media. (Why doesn’t its website include alcohol and tobacco in its list of drugs?) …Our objective is to orient our coverage to ourselves – the communicators – for a deeper treatment by media of the issue… The principle is simple: If society – our public, our audience – has problems with drugs (addictions, violence, crime) then the theme deserves a deeper investigation…”
Ricardo, who is quick to say that he is not technically a “journalist,” is, at very least, a leader of journalists. And as the rest society knows about us journalists: We need leadership! He is fluent in Spanish and English.
“I consider myself a communicator more than a journalist. I have never had a fixed job with a media company: in this sense I am an independent communicator. In a deeper sense too: my urge has been to communicate issues that I personally consider important… I look forward to helping out in developing and producing immedia projects which bring a more demanding and critical attention to media and politics. I am sure we can come up with really fun ideas, such as TVTV NEWSNEWS. But I am also interested in exploring and communicating some of the natural human values that are being left out in the logic of ‘big money.’”
“What is journalism? I’m inspired by a work of investigation that is well presented. In this sense, there are many ‘investigators’ who inspire me: The chemist Albert Hoffmann, the doctor and botanist Andrew Weil, the attorney and sociologist Antonio Escohotado… They have very interesting books and texts that present their historical and anthropological research, even into the interior of consciousness, as they relate to drugs.”
George Sanchez, 23
San Francisco, California, United States
George was executive editor of the Foghorn newspaper at the University of San Francisco. He is currently a reporting fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. “I am eagerly joining a dying breed of reporters know as ‘Investigative Journalists,’” he wrote to us in his application. He has written for Mother Jones, Ritmo Beat, Punk Planet, America, and Friction magazine (we especially liked his detailed analysis of “Popular Music After 9/11” even though it didn’t mention our own beloved Marshall Mathers… but I digress…) Also, George is a musician. He plays guitar and bass. He is fluent in English (“My mother consciously decided not to teach my brother, sister, and I Spanish, hoping that the lack of an accent would deter discrimination. A pretty common story, but you’d never know it without meeting folks like myself.”)
“The specter of an immedia project is haunting the school of Authentic journalism. Like anxious Tony singing ‘Something’s coming/but what?’ in Stephen Sondheim’s silly musical West Side Story, there’s something there, but the question is how do we reach it.
“This question is in no way confined to the state of journalism… how do we get past the lionization of the World Trade Organization protest and move into a new form of activism — an activism that is not mocked or ridiculed as leftover sentiment from ageing hippies or suburbanites turned into confused, brick throwing, anarchists? Where do we go from here? Must that movement be violent and if so, why?
“It’s the same daunting question facing investigative journalism and how it can hold its own in an increasingly corporate controlled environment concerned only with the bottom line…”
Andrew Stelzer, 25
Portland, Oregon, United States
A reporter with KBOO Community Radio who has also contributed as a freelancer to Free Speech Radio News, Independent Native News, and “Making Contact” by the National Radio Project, Andrew also writes for a radio theater troupe, “The Sudden Radio Project,” producing “short radio plays and skits, political, humorous, dramatic, all uncensored.” A recipient of the Mickey Leland Hunger Fellowship, he works in a shelter for homeless families. He is fluent in English.
“I grew up on 9th street and Broadway with my mom in New York City… Currently, from my corner (my mom still lives there, and my room is still relatively intact, so I still consider it my home), I can see McDonalds, Kmart, the Gap, Banana Republic, Tower records, Staples, Duane Reade, Chase Manhattan bank, Ann Taylor, Blockbuster video, Nobody beats the Wiz, Sbarro, Jennifer convertibles, another ATM, and god knows what else because I haven’t been there in a few months. Within three blocks, there are also 2 Starbucks, and another McDonalds…
“None of these businesses besides Tower Records were there until around 1990 or so, when McDonalds opened next to a clothing store called Unique. Soon Unique closed and was replaced by Nobody Beats the Wiz. Those same few blocks used to consist of the shoemaker, the deli, the drugstore, some clothing boutiques, and lots of small businesses. While I am not a shopper myself, and I hate money and capitalism, I do think there is a significant difference between international chain stores and small, locally owned businesses, and I am sad that the neighborhood is no longer unique. I view it as the wasteland of a capitalism bomb explosion going off…
“I tell the story of my neighborhood not only because it is relevant to your choice of salon location, but it allows me to illustrate a point that is important to me: The causes I advocate for as a news reporter and human being are not packaged ‘issues’ I have learned about from a class or non-profit organization; my passion comes from a desire to not let the whole world succumb to the forces which I see swallowing up many of the important things in my own life.”
Ugo Vallauri, 25
Ugo just graduated last week from the School of Communications at the University of Bologna. He is co-author of the book “Media Activism” and editor of the website (in Italian), of the same project. He’s a collaborator with Radio Città del Capo in Bologna, too. Many of his ideas and thoughts about the problem of Media are akin to our own. We’re looking forward to comparing notes with Ugo on how to bring this revolt against simulation by Commercial Media and Middlemen forward. He is fluent in Italian and English.
“I would most like to work with Media organizations that are financially independent from the power of any corporate ownership in the first place. Also, I am seeking media organizations that try to brake barriers and inform ‘mainstream people’ with honesty, which is to say outlets trying to spread the word among people usually not exposed to independent media…
“It seems like the internet serves as nothing more than a paradox: while in theory empowering anyone who decides to publish alternatives to the news media, at the same time it tends to push all these substantially different contributions to a sort of virtual ghetto. What I call virtual ghetto is the condition of truth-driven websites, discussion lists and newsletters which are not publicized by Big Media, and therefore are not accessed by anyone else other than the people actively looking for them.
“As Ignacio Ramonet of Le Monde Diplomatique points out, ‘it is really tiring and time-consuming to get informed, but that’s the price the citizen pays in order to intelligently take part to democratic life’”
Check out Ugo’s “Media Activism” site (it’s in Italian):
Adriana Veloso Meireles
22, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
“Dri” (as she is known by countless Authentic Journalists and Independent Media workers across the globe) has helped to organize the growing wave of Indymedia centers in Latin America, and collaborated on radio and web broadcasts from the World Social Forum in Puerto Alegre last year. An accomplished webmaster and Internet pioneer, she is a student of journalism at Centro Universitario de Belo Horizonte, and a teacher of more languages than most folks will ever learn: She is fluent in Spanish, English, Portuguese and Italian.
“Journalists have ceased to be the only voices to speak. It is estimated that, today, there are more than 500,000 weblogs. The first Internet revolution brought the possibility that information could arrive rapidly, like when Subcomandante Marcos sent an email to tell the world about the Zapatista revolution.
“The grand difference is that, before, there were few voices and the majority of them were controlled by the tools of coercion of the commercial media. Today, anyone who has the tools has a voice; through a blog, through email. And the people don’t need high levels of education to produce information.
“The role of journalists as social actors is to share these tools of the production of information with their local communities, because news produced locally is more valid than that produced by news agencies like AP, etc. Journalists should not speak of stories they have not lived. But they should train and educate people who haven’t had the opportunity for academic studies and/or training to be able to do it. The production of popular information doesn’t follow the rules of traditional journalism. It doesn’t take editorial orders. This is the more authentic, more true, information. It is closer to reality.”
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