The Narco News Bulletin

August 15, 2018 | Issue #67 - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America

The School that Changes Lives

The One where you "unlearn, learn and re-learn"

By Alphonce Shiundu
Class of 2011, School of Authentic Journalism

April 27, 2015
This report appears on the internet at

'This school changes lives!' That's the first thing that Al Giordano, the president and founder of the School of Authentic Journalism, said that evening when he welcomed me and 40 other scholars to the School of Authentic Journalism four years ago. I am skeptical (some say I am a cynic), so I looked at Al's statement as one of those slogans you give to visitors in your continent for the first time.

I didn't know him. He didn't know me. But I guess the dozens of questions that he made me answer when I put in my application gave him an idea about who I was. Besides, I loved the concept: Journalists, activists, organisers, bloggers, political cartoonists and scholars, all under one roof. That's why I applied.

Alphonce Shiundu, part of the 2011 Class of the School of Authentic Journalism. Photo by: Rodrigo Jardón Galeana

The way I worked as a journalist was to be a "fly on the wall" in meetings and ask questions on issues that I do not understand. I expected a meeting. I got a workshop. Practical stuff: Talks, discussions, break-out sessions and everyone learned from everyone else. There were books, top-notch free books on civil resistance, organizing and movements. It all re-wired my thought process.

I got to interview Egyptian activists and bloggers on the revolution that had just happened in their country; listen to the scholars (Prof. Stephen Zunes and Jack Duvall) as they expounded on the revolution; speak to activists Ghada Shahbender and blogger Noha Atef, and then put down a story. It was simply eye-opening. I met people who were so deft with digital tools. I met Ivan Marovic, one of the guys who brought down the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Also, I got insight into authentic journalism - telling all the "truths," giving it context and writing well. It was awesome.

I learned to listen and understand (and to even tolerate) different viewpoints. I saw the dividend of keeping time. I learned how to talk to different people from different places in the world. And I learned about the struggles of people in some countries such as Arzerbaijan and Singapore. (Who would have thought I'd come all the way from East Africa, and they'd come all the way from Baku and Singapore, for us to meet in Mexico City, only to find that we occupy the same intellectual and moral space!?)

Alphonce Shiundu and Aldo Orellana during a session at the School of Authentic Journalism.
It is a packed course. As a participant from Spain put it, you "unlearn, learn and re-learn." I didn't even realize that someone can get all that information within ten days. It was not all work at SAJ. We work hard; we also play hard. When I left, I could speak Spanish. I actually made my goodbye speech in Spanish. I also taught a few people some words in Kiswahili.

I made contacts. When I am doing stories for other magazines, I get comments from some of the people I met at SAJ. I get training opportunities from some of the colleagues I worked with at SAJ. (Thank you Jenny Gustaffson.)

As Al said, the school changes lives. It changed mine. I am now a better journalist. Just looking at Al, and school professors like Greg Berger and Bill Conroy, gives me the guts to know that as long as I believe that what I am doing is right, and that it deserves to be done, I keep going.

I wish many more journalists from Africa went through SAJ. Step by step, we'll get there.

We need more authentic journalists in the continent to tell their local stories, to inform the public and change their world.

You can help us get there by sending your donation to the Fund for Authentic Journalism. It's a 501c3 nonprofit and contributions are tax-deductible in the US. It supports the investigative journalism of Narco News and its reporters, and the training of new generations through the SAJ to do this work.

Join the Kickstarter campaign or go to to learn more about the school.

Thank you!

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