The Narco News Bulletin

February 23, 2018 | Issue #65 - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America

The Unique Experience of the Narco News J-School, and Why You Should Support It

"The Density of Human Potential at the School of Authentic Journalism Was Orders of Magnitude Above Any Other Room on Earth"

By Jesse Freeston
Class of 2010, School of Authentic Journalism

May 27, 2010
This report appears on the internet at

Dear Narco News Reader,

I will not waste any of your time describing why independent, authentic media is important to you, the fact you come to this site in spite of its color scheme is evidence enough that you are keenly aware of the importance of uncompromising content. Nor will I bother you with examples of how the commercial media models have failed us in that respect, you know where to find those too, they're all around you. I'm going to tell you a little bit about why my personal experience with the School of Authentic Journalism has convinced me that it is an invaluable institution and tradition in the ongoing construction a different kind of journalism. Scratch that. Let us not be humble about something as important as reality: The construction of better journalism.

Jesse Freeston, professor of viral video, at the 2010 Narco News School of Journalism in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Photo: D.R. 2010 Andrew Stelzer
My name is Jesse, I am a video-journalist with a project called The Real News Network, and I had the incredible privilege to attend my first ever School of Authentic Journalism this February on Mexico's gorgeous Yucatan Peninsula. Here's a sampling of what I got out of it.

The experience made me aware of dozens of ambitious projects, like Ansel Herz's incredible reporting from Haiti. Moreover, it's turned me into a shameless promoter. When I overhear someone talking about the Colombian elections, I'm selling them Omar Vera's Bogota-based paper El Turbion like a newsie in 1902 Queens. What did you say about alternative media models? I'm practically pushing you on a train to Philadelphia to see Milena Velis and the Media Mobilizing Project. Looking for a good movie tonight? Check out Oscar Estrada's freely available documentary El Porvenir. Of course you've already seen it, who hasn't? In that case check out Greg Berger's Love in the Time of Influenza or Marine Lormant Sebag's The Revolution Will Be Animated. Okay I'm out of corny excuses to show off my new friends to you, just google the whole list here and here.

I come across an article, a project, a video, and an action every day that inspires me, and the Internet gives me any number of ways to pass those on through social networks. But I do so with much more vigor and conviction those projects with which I have a personal connection with the creators. Thanks to the J-School I have a stronger connection, understanding, and respect for these projects, having spent real time with their parents.

Which brings me to my particular work.

The Real News currently operates three journalism 'cells.' One is myself, one is the stupendous Lia Tarachansky reporting from Israel-Palestine, and the third cell is a group that produces daily interviews with Real News founder and most vital organ, Paul Jay. As we try to touch on as many topics as possible, so as to merit the term daily video news service, we have to reverse focus on a regular basis, both geographically and thematically. For me that means drastic changes of course as often as three times per week. In this endeavor, the J-School is a gift that keeps on giving.

The friendships I made were invaluable to my work. In the three months that have passed, I have contacted at least six J-schoolers for input on stories of my own (such as my recent video featuring Jean Friedman-Rodovsky on Bolivia's resource dilemmas).

There is little I hate more than reporting on places I've never been to and struggles I've never witnessed, like the Bolivia video above. But my work obliges me to do so. So I can't tell you how important it is to have sources that I know personally, even a little bit. It is one thing to call up somebody you've never met for information, or someone you met in passing. It is quite another to call up somebody whom you have shared a room with, met Mario Menendez with, enjoyed a mojito with, and discussed the craft with. That is to say, somebody with whom you have so quickly achieved a level of intimacy that helps you decipher what sort of information that person might include or leave out, prioritize or de-emphasize. The kind of invaluable calculations one makes when putting together sources for a story, or when merely trying to understand an issue for your own curiosity's sake.

Working alone with video is a tough job. That's not to say I do everything myself, but for the most part I do work alone, sometimes by necessity, often by choice. But working with a director like Noha Atef on the promo video for her website Torture in Egypt was a window into the possibilities of collaboration. Noha instantly provided both a vision and specific directions about what she wanted, and together with the aforementioned Milena Velis we put together the video in just a few off-hours at the J-School.

I think the word that was all over my lips after the J-School was unique. What a unique experience I had, truly like none other I've had. I'm very picky about the people I spend time with, some might even say, an asshole. That said, I can't think of a single person in a room of 60 at the J-School that I wouldn't want to spend more time with. I familiarized myself with new concepts, skills and perspectives, some of which I have already put into practice. I met some tactics, ideas, and templates that I will likely never emulate or disseminate. But I'm still all the better for having been exposed to them in an environment like the one provided by the school.

Here's a line from one of my favorite musical artists, Bluepint says:

In a world dominated by the digital/
The metronome I listen to/
Beats inside of my chest.

The work of an independent journalist, while being an honor and a privilege, is at the same time tiring and lonely. Lonely not just because of the long days of solitary work, but because many of the people with whom we share the most, we never see. We admire their work from afar, maybe drop an email or a FaceBook message now and then, but we rarely see them up close. As Blueprint lays out, while the digital provides incredible capacities to work and share together, it will never fully replace real contact. I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to spend just ten days collaborating by day and dancing by night with the Authentic 60. It really replenished my batteries, and I know I'm not the only one who can say that.

After unique, if I could help myself to an entire phrase to describe the school, it would be density of potential. The human potential that was in the room in Mexico was unprecedented. The capacity per square foot was orders of magnitude above any room in the world. And we're just starting to harvest the fruits of that time spent together.

So to those who have already donated, and those who helped organize the school, thank you a million times over. For those who still have some pennies to spare, pretty please with a journalistic revolution on top, help us keep Narco News publishing also so we can do this again next year!

You can donate online at this link:

Or send a check to:

The Fund for Authentic Journalism
PO Box 1446
Easthampton, MA 01027

Thank you, again, for your support,

Jesse Freeston
Class of 2010, School of Authentic Journalism

For more Narco News, click here