|English | Español||July 22, 2014 | Issue #67|
Ten Years Into Narco News’ School of Authentic Journalism, You Can Make It Even More of a Success Story
A Graduate-turned-Professor Assesses How the School Has Changed Lives and Maybe Even History
By Andrew Stelzer
In the non-profit world, funders often want to hear about the ‘impact’ of an organization. I admit it’s a problematic request, because those funders often don’t understand how movements are built, and that quantifiable data that looks good on a PowerPoint doesn’t necessarily equal social change. But lets hang up our reservations for a minute and indulge the dominant paradigm. Ten years after it’s inaugural gathering “somewhere in a country called América”, how do the School and Narco News stand up?
The first time I heard the term ‘blog’ was at the first j-school in 2003. It was also the first time I saw a professional grade digital camera. I was an up-and-comer, still volunteering at a community radio station in Portland, OR. But I was rubbing shoulders with independent on-line pioneers and seasoned journalistic veterans. The experience left me understanding not only that I had to step up my game, but also gave me some clues of how to do so. Those lessons, and a network to learn them from, are hard to find. The School of Authentic Journalism was and continues to be a resource for those who attend. People write to me to ask about radio equipment. I ask questions about photo, and video techniques. We improve each other’s work both on-site, and as a virtual community after the school is done.
Al Giordano is a living manifestation of the phrase ‘Don’t hate the media, become the media.” He broke away from his years of work in the commerical media to start his own on-line journalism project before many knew that was even an option. That experience informs the J-school ethic, and the number of blogs, independent websites, and collaborative projects spawned by the school’s Alumni are too numerous to count. The slow crippling death of legacy media can be attributed in no small part to these leaner, faster, more ‘authentic’ outlets coming into existence.
On the other side of the coin, the names of School of Authentic Journalism scholars can be seen on Al-Jazeera, in the New York Times, on BBC, and virtually everywhere you look. (While Al might not see this as something to be proud of, he’s permitting me to point it out in the name of free speech). It’s safe to say that both the participants, and philosophy of authentic journalism have begun to ‘infiltrate’ the big media world. And I don’t mean infiltrated in a sinister sense—for too long, those who rose to the top of those ivory towers simply had not been exposed to the people and perspectives you find at the school. As those ‘infiltrators’ brought with them both topical and practical knowledge gained at our gatherings over the past decade, the narrative of mainstream coverage of Latin America has shifted. There were pieces of their reporting that were missing, which you now see more and more (although still not enough). The School of Authentic Journalism has helped fill in the blanks for a generation of journalists, organizers and activists; and as they rise through the ranks, our understanding of the Americas continues to grow.
During the first couple of J-schools, the focus was on Latin America—not only because that’s where we were located, but because that’s where the action was. Social movements in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and elsewhere were the brightest in the world, and for most of the oughts, remained the shining stars. As a gringo, what I learned about my southern neighbors was invaluable…but to tell the truth, it lacked context. I remember a colleague asking me why Latin America was the only place in the world shifting to the left—-I didn’t have a good answer.
But then came the so-called ‘Arab Spring’…and the timing couldn’t have been better at the 2011 school (perhaps it was our dean’s grand plan?). Weeks after toppling the dictator Mubarak, three Egyptian scholars were there to de-code for us what had just taken place—and how that movement really took seed many years earlier. Latin America no longer had a monopoly on people’s uprisings. For me, it was refreshing. I think for those from the Western Hemisphere, it was humbling, and inspirational. Being able to exchange stories and see the similarities helped build bridges to extend authentic journalism’s reach across oceans. Our comprehension of how movements are built; along with our network, and our consciousness, is now global.
Anybody read a newspaper lately? (those that are still publishing). There has been a sea change. The legalization of marijuana is being considered in numerous US states. Two have already done so. The “war on drugs’ has lost any sheen of legitimacy, and even some Republicans are crossing the line on this issue, admitting it’s a waste of money. South of the border, the Mexican people have rejected the senseless violence brought on by former President Calderon’s policies, and a powerful, multi-generational social movement emerged with the issue at it’s crux. Throughout Latin America, more and more governments are changing tune as well.
The first School of Authentic Journalism – like Narco News – was centered around drug policy in the Americas; while the second zeroed in on coca growers in Bolivia (along with other social movements there). This was in 2003 and 2004. Narco News was ahead of the curve on this issue, and helped spawn a community of journalists that saw firsthand the intersections of both the problem, and the need for cross-border movement building to change the narrative around drug policy.
While it would be ludicrous to claim primary credit for these societal shifts, long time readers know that Narco News has been a rare English-language source of solid reporting on Latin America, drug policy, and movements for democracy. The spread of that information has helped sway the opinions of pundits, policy makers and the people in the pueblos. And that, in a nutshell is how ‘public opinion’ comes to evolve.
It’s equally as self-centered to claim the 80 or so people that gather at the School of Authentic Journalism are solely responsible for sparking massive social change. But on the contrary, knowing every one of the people who have received a diploma at our closing night feast/roast, it’s also faulty to ignore the impact we have had. Handpicked by editor-in-chief Giordano, the dozens of us scholars and professors represent a diversity of communities and constituencies that number in the thousands. Especially now that the school has global representation, the ripples created through our ever-expanding network undoubtedly affect millions. And that means your donations will multiply in power, as their beneficiaries go back home at the end of April 2013.
A decade into the project, has the School of Authentic Journalism made a significant impact? I think the answer is clearly—Yes.
Will it continue to grow and prosper for another ten years to come? That answer, dear reader—is up to you.
Please make a donation today. You can do it right now via this link:
Or you can send a check to:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
PO Box 1446
Easthampton, MA 01027
School of Authentic Journalism, scholar & professor, 2003-2013
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism