<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
¡Bienvenidos en Español!
Bem Vindos em Português!

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Authentic Journalists Win Scholarships for Upcoming Rowe Weekend

Lucian Read from NY & Sandra Alland from Toronto to Attend Oct. 31 Workshop at Rowe Conference Center

By Al Giordano
Narco News School of Authentic Journalism

November 30, 1999

The upcoming weekend workshop, “Authentic Journalism, Latin America, and the Drug War,” at the Rowe Conference Center in Western Massachusetts, led by yours truly, with an assist from Free Speech attorney (and victor in the “Drug War on Trial” case) Tom Lesser, now counts with two more voices: Authentic Journalism Scholarship recipients Lucian Read and Sandra Alland. The conference – to be held October 31 through November 2 – still has some available slots for Narco News readers, too (you can register, while space lasts, via the Rowe Conference Center website – http://www.rowecenter.org – or, for more information, send an email to info@rowecenter.org ).

About our winners:

Photojournalist Lucian Read, 28, Texan by birth, New Yorker by choice, is already known to many Narco News readers as the photojournalist who was detained, illegally, by the Bolivian Army on April 2nd this year.

Sandra Alland, 30, of Toronto, a trilingual (Spanish, French, English) reporter, accomplished playwright, photographer, and widely published poet, reported this past summer from the battle for survival by the Ojibway indigenous nation at Grassy Narrows.

Alland: Free Speech for the Oppressed

Sandra Alland
Photo by Andrea Griffith
Alland, a graduate of the University of Toronto who also attended the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, also writes for the stage. She co-authored, among other works, the play “Seeing Each Other,” which was performed in New York City, selected by the 2002 Fringe Festival. Journalism today, says Alland, takes place in an atmosphere in which too many people are unable to be seen or heard:

“As a writer, photographer, and translator, I am acutely aware of the division of subject/object, and of the subjectivity of all experience. I have a sensitivity towards trying to accurately represent people and their stories, and yet I am aware that the end product will still be only ‘my’ perception of reality. Living as a queer woman in a (hetero)sexist society, I have some understanding of, and sensitivity toward, oppression, and the lack of Freedom of Speech in the lives of the oppressed.”

In her application for this scholarship, she explained how even journalists have a hard time achieving free speech. She tells this story about one article she wrote for a newspaper:

“When I had completed the article, she asked me to do several more interviews and expand the piece from its current 1200 words. I was happy to oblige, as the community needs all of the attention it can get because of its remote location and lack of funds. However, when I had finished the article, the editor cut it down to 800 words in order to accommodate an abundance of advertising after a long weekend. Much important information was lost. Worse still, some of her edits were horrifying. For example, she referred to any Native as a ‘resident’ and any White as a ‘citizen.’ She also removed many important references to the issue of mercury poisoning in the community.

“However, we talked on the phone and came to an agreement on editorial changes. I was not ecstatic, yet satisfied that I had done the best I could, and that the most important aspects of the story remained.

“When the article was published, she had not made most of the changes we had agreed upon. In addition, she had added a sensationalistic title to the article, suggesting more friction than existed between the reserve and the nearby town. By the time my writing traveled from my computer through the copyeditors and editors, it had become something else, something I had not agreed to publish…”

Many members of the public are unaware of how little “free speakership” even journalists have in the Commercial Media industry, including in the “alternative media.” At the Rowe Workshop, we’ll discuss, with the help of Sandra’s testimony, the current plight of media workers and journalists, and techniques to bypass those profit-driven mechanisms of control.

We’ll also be reviewing the current political and social situation in Latin America; already a different map than it was just five years ago, and evolving rapidly. Our next scholarship recipient has direct testimony to offer from the front.

Read: “Every Day I Go To Work…”

From Bolivia, to Sarajevo (see also Lucian’s slide show about Kosovo’s refugees, “Collateral Damage,” on MSNBC.com), to his chronicles of the work of fishermen in Alaska and California, to his documentation of post-September 11 New York, to his portraits of the great jazz musicians of our era, Lucian Read’s work, vast, in color and in black & white, tells a thousand stories. What’s clear is that this is a photojournalist with the work ethic to get to the story no matter how isolated in geography, how inconvenient the hour, or how dangerous the job.

October 2000 honorable mention by Northern New England AP’s Photo of the Month award: A clamdigger at sunrise in Biddeford, Maine.
Lucian comes very highly recommended by two other J-School vets: Bolivian journalist Alex Contreras and Narco News Andean Bureau Chief Luis Gómez, who saw him in action last spring under a tense situation.

Alex Contreras, who reported on the illegal arrest of Lucian by the Bolivian military last spring, testifies: “The Army’s intention was to intimidate the photographer. However, Lucian’s detention provoked the opposite reaction from the photographer, because the very next day, after regaining his liberty, he returned to Cochabamba Tropic to live with the coca growing families and produced a brilliant series of works.”

“Lucian Read isn’t just a typical journalist,” notes Luis Gómez, veteran Mexican journalist in La Paz, Bolivia. “Not just anyone spends his own money and travels to the heart of Bolivia without even knowing how to speak Spanish. I know he spent months planning his trip carefully. ‘I don’t want to just pass through,’ he wrote me prior to his trip. ‘I want to find the real facts, to speak, listen, and understand what is happening in the Chapare and with the coca growers.’”

Lucian Read
“Lucian also went to report the story from the military side in this war on drugs imposed by the gringos,” continues Gómez. “He entered the bases, spoke with the pilots, the soldiers, and even the US Embassy… He had the courage, and the stomach, even to go to those places to completely understand what was happening. And, of course, distinct from many ridiculous gringos who are afraid of everything, Lucian learned Spanish, spoke with the people, slept in their homes, and learned to eat their foods… Some time later I was able to see his photos, and they correspond with his ‘style’ of doing things: full of life, in color. He photographed the men, women, and children of the coca leaf, united as they have been for a long time already, grappling with life, smiling, and confronting the horror of a war that has promised to exterminate them.”

Lucian wrote on his application:

“I am troubled by the fact that none of my colleagues work on their own projects because as you say, ‘The Daily Life of a media worker is one of chasing deadlines, with little time to think about the consequences… and even less time to enjoy life or stumble onto something NEW.’ It is not that I am afraid that important work is not still being created. But, the people I work with make up the back bone of the print media here in New York – men and women, freelancers mostly, who work or chase work day after day cranking out most of what the public reads and sees. If the urge and opportunity to do serious work has been taken from them, it bodes ill for the profession and the common good.

“I know that I spend most of my time behind the camera photographing the same forgettable people and events again and again. We cover them because we have always covered them not because they have any meaning. Adding to the insult of covering these trivialities is that rarely do our images appear unadulterated on the page (‘No journalist or creator can see his or her creations through to unmediated completion.’) and I know that I have to subvert my way of seeing in order to appeal to the tastes of editors whom I have never even met. I see meaningless images work played well and serious work hardly published at all. This leaves me with the feeling that my work is seen as filler to be sized and resized to make room for advertisements and celebrities (who themselves are in essence human advertisements).

“My first wish is to tell stories and produce meaningful images. Because of this I agree that the disconnection between the media and the public has in part been created by media privilege which is isolating, by a preoccupation with the concerns of the moment not a responsibility to history and to the future, and by a slavish fealty to mediocrity and the sponsor. I agree because, unfortunately, I can see those ideas play themselves out every day I go to work.”

It’s going to be a thrill to meet these two outstanding authentic journalists – Lucian Read and Sandra Alland – finally, in person, in Rowe, Massachusetts at the end of this month. I remember well, from my years in the Commercial Media of North America, the situation they describe, the fight for free speech and free speakership in an industry infused with “slavish fealty to mediocrity and the sponsor.” The best part of this job is to “go to work” each day, meet, and collaborate with, the new generation of Authentic Journalists, like Sandra and Lucian, who, against all odds, are pioneers of a renaissance that probably will only be widely recognized as such after we’re done moving the carpet under the decomposing Commercial Media machines.

One of the hardest parts of this job is that we were unable to offer more scholarships. I have a mailbox full of other highly qualified and energetic “auténticos” that, because here we’re always broke, we were unable to offer more scholarships. Perhaps another day we will.

To register for the “Authentic Journalism, Latin America, and the Drug War” workshop at the Rowe Conference Center, October 31 to November 2 in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, see the conference center website, or email info@rowecenter.org, or call 413-339-4954

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America