"The deepest urge in human beings is the revolt against definition and the fixities of life."

- Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1866

Opening Day Remarks from
College President Al Giordano

October 1, 2002

Good morning, and welcome, everybody, to the first day of classes.

Today we begin the online semester of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism.

This online Training Program in Authentic Journalism will culminate next February in the real world - that oasis of directly lived experience that still exists somewhere outside of this screen - when six scholarship winners, a yet undetermined number of additional students, and a top-shelf faculty come together for in an intense ten-day journalism training program on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

If you haven't heard about this scholarship program yet, see:


Why have we started a J-School? We want you to report on the drug war and democracy from Latin América, with authenticity as your sword.

The Drug War and Democracy beat grows larger, the conflict, heavier, every day. América is about to explode in ways that few have fathomed or reported. We need more journalists of conscience to break the information borders between human beings in our América.

As your college president, I want you to participate in the Authentic Journalism Renaissance. I want you to know what I mean when I say the words "authentic journalism."

And on a practical level, the upcoming OUT FROM THE SHADOWS drug legalization summit, February 12-15, 2003, in Mérida on México's Yucatán Peninsula (Narco News is co-sponsoring this event hosted by the Autonomous University of Yucatán and the daily newspaper Por Esto!, and coordinated by the Drug Reform Coordination Network in Washington, DC) is going to be too big for our small news team to cover alone. The first-ever all América gathering of drug policy reform leaders from the Andes to the Rockies merits Full Coverage on a global scale.

Imagine, if you will, dozens of Narco News stories and interviews about the drug war and pro-democracy battles in almost every country of América, all happening over a four-day period in one place. That's what Mérida's going to look and sound like. We know that many of our readers will attend - and we're planning a special event there for Narco News readers with our friends at Salón Chingón - the off-screen partners of the Narco News project - to thank you for your years of readership and support - so, see you there, at the historic event described by this link:


A Story In Need of Reporters

The Mérida Summit must be reported. It will be a very newsworthy event with many newsmakers participating. We want Narco News readers who can't physically be in Mérida to be able to follow the news being made there, and so we've also decided to build a dream team of journalists to report on this historic drug legalization summit, as it is happening, via Narco News and other media.

If you're an ideal member of that news team, this is how we hope to find you:

We're offering a scholarship, a ten-day training program with work as a journalist, with a free trip to Mérida, and then to our Caribbean seaside campus.

In both places you'll receive coaching and training by some of the most outstanding journalists and faculty in our América: The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism.

By now, having heard the words "School of Journalism," you're probably reaching for your wallet. You can put it away.

Thanks to a grant from the Tides Foundation, we can offer a free education for a free press.

Welcome to the School of Authentic Journalism. We don't want your money: A free press means you don't pay.

We want your talent, your dedication, your creative labor, your enthusiasm, and the chance to win your future as an authentic journalist reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin América. And we want our readers to be able to attend the Mérida conference and the School of Authentic Journalism, gratis, from home through you. It's not as if we're asking for nothing from you. Some people would consider this program akin to ten days of guerrilla journalism boot camp: It's not for everybody. Bring your spiral notebook and other weapons of mass communication.

Well, okay, bring your bathing suit, too.

What is a Journalism School?

Journalism schools are big business. Last year, for example, the Columbia University School of Journalism had 1,700 applicants for 207 slots in a ten-month program that costs around $30,000 dollars, plus the cost of books and living in expensive New York City. Like many journalists, I did not go to J-School. There would have been no way for me to afford it. And I imagine that many beginning journalists today are in similar straits.

Academic institutions offer a plethora of weekend seminars and journalism training programs, charging hundreds of dollars per student, and these programs are very popular. One esteemed journalism school - Northwestern University's Medill School - offers a one-month course for $3,450. You tell us whether you get your money's worth at programs like that, but we do wonder: How many of the great authentic journalists of the coming years are slipping through the cracks because they can't afford a journalism education?

And yet, for better or worse, these schools are producing many members of the next generation of media workers - the good, the bad and the ugly - at the precise hour when journalism is in crisis.

As for what is being taught, and what is being learned, in those hallowed halls, some deans and presidents of top journalism schools are beginning to express worry over what kinds of journalists they are creating, and what kind of journalism will be practiced. Orville Schell, dean of the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, and an experienced foreign policy reporter, recently told an interviewer at journalismjobs.com that "the marketplace is making such massive inroads into the ability of media outlets to do good journalism. That to me is the mother of all problems."

In a moment, I'll tell you what some other J-School heads are saying. Suddenly - and not a moment too soon - they're all lookin' for that "vision thing" that journalism once knew but at some point between the deadlines and market pressures passed like an ancient civilization into obscurity.

If vision is really what they seek, we think we've found some answers to their questions.

Six years ago, after having worked as a staff reporter covering courts, cops, and politics for the Valley Advocate (1989-1993), as political reporter for the Boston Phoenix (1993-1996), as a daily AM talk radio host on WSPR, WHYN and WNNZ radio in Massachusetts (1990-1993), as a co-host of Radio Free New York with Penny Arcade on 99.3 FM Steal This Radio in New York City (1996-97), as a guest host at the ABC TV affiliate - WGGB TV-40 - in Springfield, Massachusetts, as the host of Television Free America produced by Continental Cablevision, as an online editor in its early years for the Delphi Internet service, and after having published articles in the Washington Post, American Journalism Review, the Utne Reader and many other publications, I came to similar conclusions as those that Dean Schell recently stated in Berkeley.

Who killed journalism? The marketplace killed journalism. Commercial media outlets discovered "market research" and, to attract advertisers, they began catering their "product" to upscale readers with expendable cash. And the majority of citizens (read: people without much expendable cash) ceased to be served by the press. The majority was left behind, and is no longer well served by the commercial media.

I felt I had lived the final years of honest journalism at the service of the public, but I felt that I had also witnessed the demise of that mission.

In 1996, I wrote in The Medium is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media that "journalism is dead as a living art form," and I headed South of the Border, to the rebel indigenous communities of Chiapas, Mexico, so discouraged with the State of the Media that I corrected many people who I met: "No, I'm an ex-journalist."

And then came the pleasant surprises: I found, outside of the United States, that journalism was, in fact, alive and well, even thriving in some places, in lands that counted with five hundred years of developing resistance to the very kinds of impositions and corruptions that have harmed the field of journalism from above.

The ancient Mayan regions of Southeastern Mexico, from Yucatán to Chiapas - where, incidentally, the most advanced form of writing in the hemisphere was invented - have, poetically, emerged in recent years as centers of the Authentic Journalism Renaissance.

So it's fitting that as we launch the School of Authentic Journalism, that we do it from the Yucatán: You will notice that on our campus, we have statues and ball fields like they do at other schools; it's just that ours are a lot older and experienced than those at the relatively younger centers of academia to the North.

John Harvard in Massachusetts, Chac Mool in Yucatán

And to make sure we give you the pyramids without any pyramid schemes, as my first act as your college president I am hereby cutting tuition for all students at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism… to nothing.

Your education here will be free

Do I have your attention? Six (and hopefully more) of you will be chosen to receive a free trip to the Yucatán. You will get meaningful work as journalists reporting on an historic news event - the first-ever América-wide drug legalization summit. You'll publish reports from that summit on Narco News, and receive coaching and critique on your work from the experienced journalists on our faculty. You'll observe and study, first-hand, how Mexico's third most widely read and fastest growing newspaper - the daily Por Esto! - and its doctrine of "authentic journalism" offers concrete solutions for how to revitalize journalism in our era. You also get to come to the beach and call it school. If you'd like to be one of those scholarship recipients, the deadline for applications is November 15th.

To receive an application, send an email to salonchingon@hotmail.com

These scholarships are not for everybody, but we're trying to make the curriculum accessible to all.

A case in point: Does anybody mind if I light my cigarette so much that you will tell me to put it out? Okay, you folks who raised your hands: Stay right there in the non-smoking section: In your home or workplace, where you can take these courses free, via the Internet, please.

As for the rest of you, I thank you in advance for your understanding of addiction and your humanity toward the addict. Those are important and absolute qualities, I think, for an authentic drug policy reporter. If you can't be in the same room as the people you are reporting on, this is probably not in the right profession for you.

There are a lot of important qualities for a drug policy reporter, for any news reporter, and I'm not the only one with strong opinions about it. In a moment I'll introduce you to these authentic journalists and teachers.

But first, because students are more important than faculty, I will name our first scholarship recipient.

Our First Scholarship Winner

To give you an idea of what we're looking for in our scholarship recipients, I'm naming the first scholarship recipient - she's number seven, folks, there are still Six Scholarships available - and having followed her trajectory in recent years I think she has the kind of potential as a journalistic troublemaker of conscience and talent that serves as a good example of the kind of applicant we seek:

The Tina Modotti Scholarship of the

School of Authentic Journalism goes to:

Elizabeth Flores...

Elizabeth Flores 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. (Photo copyright 2002 by Al Giordano, at the Mexico City Museum of Images.)

To become one more of the "Authentic Seven," you don't have to have been a national TV personality, or work for a major daily in your country, or be bilingual, as Zabeth has done. In terms of "the spectacle" (the media), you can be a complete unknown, who speaks only Spanish, or only English, or both, and still be a somebody to win this scholarship. What I'm seeking in our scholarship recipients - and I will choose each of you myself, with the advice and counsel of our colleages at Salón Chingón, the Narco News Team, the Por Esto! News Team, our faculty, and others, but without any "committee" serving as a front-group to rubberstamp my decisions, as so often happens in this world - is an answer to my own desire for a new generation of Authentic Journalists to grab the torch and run with it.

The coming Civil War and Revolution within Journalism is going to require your talents and consciences. I, and the other members of our faculty, want to make sure that when we're gone, the struggle continues in capable hands. And we'd like a reasonable chance, please, of triumphing while we're still here. And that's up to you.

Let me now introduce you to our confirmed faculty, who also have strong opinions - not always in agreement with mine - about drug policy reporting and journalism:

Mario Menéndez Rodríguez -- Gary Webb -- Renán Castro Madera -- Annie Harrison -- John Gilmore -- Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar -- Jeremy Bigwood -- Gustavo de Greiff -- Maria Botey Pascual -- Jules Siegel -- Peter Gorman -- Lisandro Coronado Alcocer -- Gonzálo Subirats García -- Maximilien Arvelaiz -- Juan Ramírez -- Valerie Vande Panne -- Anthony Lappe - Stephen Marshall - Luis Gómez -- Dan Feder...

Brief bios and photos of our faculty members can be seen here, as well as some of our Invited Faculty who we hope to bring to the campus.

Click Here to Meet Your Faculty

Many of these faculty members have been my teachers in journalism and in life, and they are also my friends. Their talent and accomplishment are evident, but you need to know something else about them, a factor that especially qualifies them for our faculty. These friends of ours are a lot of fun.

I've met thousands of journalists and talents throughout América - North, Central and South - over many years and many more kilometers. This is my idea of a J-School Dream Team. It is a huge pleasure to be able to bring them all together, to one place, and to present them to you. They all have so much to say, so much experience and knowledge to share, and their presence makes me not just your college president, but also their student. And if you are selected for one of these scholarships, I am your eager student, too. As my late mentor in politics, Michael Patrick Doyle (1935-2002) told me when I was sixteen, "the day I stop evolving I wish to be annihilated off the face of the earth." Or as my late mentor in communications, Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989) told me when I was 21, "Youth makes the revolution. What do YOU think we should do?"

Students and Faculty of our J-School will also attend one of

Por Esto! editor Mario Menéndez's Community Assemblies

The third-largest daily in Mexico is the only daily in América that

invites the public to critique and advise the newspaper face to face

(Photos: Copyright 2002, Por Esto!, at a September

Community Assembly in the Yucatán town of Temax)

If you think working, studying, and collaborating, with these journalists and teachers is for you, I'm going to make some recommendations as to how you can best help your chances at being one of the six chosen scholarship recipients.

At the bottom of this speech, I'm going to publish a series of links - mostly to stories by or about Narco News - that serious candidates for these scholarships should take the time to read and think about. Each raises questions for the vocation of journalism in the 21st Century.

For the past 29 months, the contributors to Narco News and I have been writing up a storm of commentary and reporting about the war on drugs and also about democracy in our América and our views on the practice of journalism.

Think of the November 15th application deadline as a journalist's story deadline.

As a scholarship applicant you will be reporting a story - yours - and offering your commentary about why you might be one of the six best candidates for this scholarship. We recommend that you approach this task as a journalist does an assignment: Familiarize yourself with the subject matters - authentic journalism, the drug war, and the visions of projects in authentic journalism like Narco News and Por Esto! and those of our other faculty members - and show us that you've done your research.

And then use the application to show us your voice - you'll be hearing a lot about the "journalist's voice" from us, and if we're successful we'll be hearing a lot about it from you - in the way that you communicate your story to us. Start with the basics of any journalistic report: Tell us the "who, what, when, where, how" and, importantly, "why" you would like to receive this scholarship and training.

How you package your application is up to you: you can send us a single commentary or write us a multi-part series. We do have a questionnaire that we invite you to complete with basic questions for all applicants. But we also ask each applicant to write to us explaining interest your in the scholarship and expounding on the issues of drug war journalism that Narco News reports.

Today and in the next few weeks we will be providing links to texts that explore many of the key issues - from press freedom law, to Internet journalism, to war reporting from conflict zones - that we think could provide important foundations for your continuing education and work in journalism.

Although much of this ten-day training program in journalism will focus on the nuts-and-bolts of practicing independent journalism and media, and also actual work in journalism, we also wish to draw your attention to the ethical and theoretical questions for journalists that we've particularly raised since June of this year in Narco News' "Immedia Summer" series.

At the bottom of these remarks I'll be placing links to key texts. If you've read them already, you've got a good head start on writing a winning scholarship application.

Why a School of

Authentic Journalism?

Journalism is in a state of crisis.

If you're not troubled, as we are, by the current state of the journalism industry, if you feel that you will be satisfied in your conscience and career working for today's media giants, this is probably not the scholarship or training program for you.

What we have heard, though, from so many beginning journalists and journalism students who are among Narco News readers is that there is a huge well of discontent and worry over the present and future of the journalism profession. If you share that concern, then you're the kind of student and journalist that we seek.

The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism attempts to grapple with that crisis and work with a new generation to replenish journalism's tired troops and to usher in what we call the Authentic Journalism Renaissance.

Journalism Schools - in the words of at least some of their presidents and deans - are not having an easy time figuring out what kind of education to offer to young aspiring journalists in a time when journalism itself seems to have lost its way.

This summer, the president of the most prestigious School of Journalism in the English-speaking world cancelled a search for a new dean of the "J-School."

Let's start with the basics, the "who, what, when, where, how" and look into the "why" of this story. His name is Lee C. Bollinger. He is the president of Columbia University in New York City. He is also a First Amendment scholar. On July 29th he wrote a memo canceling the search for a new dean of that university's School of Journalism.

President Bollinger said "this is not the right time to make such an appointment. There are many reasons why I think this is so, but the essence is simply this: There is a yawning gulf between the various visions of what a modern school of journalism ought to be, and it is unwise for the University to expect a new dean to lead us out of this conflict and into a new direction."

Bollinger's memo - he had sent it via email to Columbia faculty and staff - was posted at Jim Romenesko's Media News.

We recommend that our students read Media News, on the Poynter Institute website, Mondays through Fridays. It has emerged as the must-read morning newspaper of the journalism profession, linking to many of the day's stories about journalism and media, and often ricocheting a story - like Bollinger's memo - so far and wide that a polemic snowballs among journalists over the issues raised. We point you also to the letters page at Media News; a coliseum where journos do battle over the current events and issues of the trade. Romenesko gets many of the best journalists to write there for free. And writing out of passion, in many cases they become better writers on a letters page than in their own periodicals. Bookmark it: We'll be discussing Romenesko's Media News, and the impact of its letters page, in class as one of the study-worthy models of participatory Internet journalism that works:


The New York Times reported on the Bollinger memo, and noted that David A. Klatell, the acting dean at Columbia J-School, "said there were categories of students the school would like who typically do not apply, like top editors of student newspapers at leading universities."


"They may go to law school or business school or right into the craft," he said. "If you are the editor of the Columbia Spectator or the Harvard Crimson, you may leap right into a job. But we'd like to figure out ways to attract more of these people into the school. They can bring interesting ideas to the school, and we can provide them with added value that will make them more desirable."

Let me now introduce you to one of those people that Klatell describes, our new Webmaster and Associate Publisher Dan Feder, who joins us fresh from the staff of the Student Underground newspaper at Boston University:


Dan and the members of the Student Underground collective won the Campus Alternative Journalism Awards from the Independent Press Association this year in the categories of Best Alternative Publication of the Year (in the "shoestring budget category") and Best Reporting on Gender and Sexism. Dan could have gone to any journalism fellowship he desired. He's one of the ones they want. He chose instead to come to "somewhere in a country called América" to join the Narco News Team. He'll be reporting on the drug war and democracy from our América, redesigning and improving the Narco News website, and today it is my pleasure to appoint Dan Feder as the Dean of the School of Authentic Journalism.

In fact, we know a lot of those starting journalists and journalism students that the established J-Schools want to recruit. Many of you have already collaborated in the Authentic Journalism Renaissance through the citizen-journalism of Narco News. You helped break information blockades about drug wars and attempted coups d'etat in our América. You helped with the legal defense of Narco News when we were attacked by narco-bankers and, there, you made possible the New York Supreme Court's landmark decision protecting Internet journalists. If you're one of these people, you've got a good shot at these scholarships because you're already in the battle. I hope to see you in Mérida, and welcome you to the newsroom.

Back to the Columbia J-School search, and President Bollinger's memo: Among the pundits to weigh in on this polemic was Tunku Varadarajan of the Wall Street Journal, who wrote:


Mr. Bollinger's case, as he put it to me in a conversation, is this: If his journalism school is to do nothing more than teach its students a "trade" (writing, reporting, sourcing, etc.) -- one that can be learned so much better at an actual newspaper or magazine -- does it really belong at Columbia? To quote from his memo: "To teach the craft of journalism is a worthy goal but clearly insufficient . . . within the setting of a great university."

Varadarajan wrote:

At present, the J-school is little more than a vocational workshop, where students have their writing "critiqued" and line-edited. Students work in what one graduate described to me as "laboratory conditions, which basically means we play pretend-journalism."

We don't know if that's a fair characterization or not of that school (Do you study or teach there? You tell us, please), but we do hear a widespread disenchantment among beginning journalists and journalism students today: They worry about the state of the industry they are entering, and say that the commercial news media's lack of vision and careerist bent has also infected its educational institutions and training programs, too. They yearn to practice a more authentic journalism that has a clear vision, a vision consistent with an authentically democratic society. And they have their own ideas about how journalism should serve all the people, not just the advertising and upscale consumer classes to whom most publications are directing their "product."

The most interesting commentary about the Bollinger memo came from Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer. Rosenbaum says that journalism schools are important… or could be:


You have the snobby litterateur types who say, in effect, "I'm so smart and talented that I never needed anything as plebeian as journalism school." And then you've got the reverse snobbery of "I came up from copy boy to coffee runner at the police shack, and the only real school for real journalists is Experience."

My feeling from my experience at J-schools is that what most needs to be examined is not the existence of J-schools per se, but the kind of unexamined assumptions about nonfiction writing, about truth and "objectivity," that one can find deeply embedded in what is taught about journalism.

These assumptions are not universal. There are many who teach at J-school who don't subscribe to them. But there is something built into the J-school curricula that has a deleterious effect on students. I'm not the only person to observe it: Recently a friend of mine, a very successful and gifted editor who often interviews and works with J-school graduates, summed it up quite eloquently when he said, "They beat the voice out of them."

It's a blunt assessment, but one that the Columbia search committee ought to pay attention to, because I fear there's more than a little truth to it-at least judging from my encounters with many bright, eager students at Columbia and N.Y.U. who have been intimidated by the ruling ideology of the J-school teaching profession into internalizing a contempt, even moral condemnation for the individual writer's voice in nonfiction.

Many of the students who'd signed up for the classes I taught or spoke to were ostensibly seeking to find their own voices as writers. They were idealistically, if quixotically, seeking to write long nonfiction pieces for the dwindling number of magazines that publish them. It's an ambition that's not entirely quixotic because such stories often lead to book contracts, and long nonfiction is flourishing in book publishing (at least compared to magazines)….

And, I'd like to add, reports of the death of long nonfiction pieces are greatly exaggerated. If you've read this far into my remarks today, well, you just proved my point. We know it first-hand; it's usually one of our longer reports - such as our recent essay on Eminem and post-9/11 journalism - that generates a large volume of letters and commentary from readers. If you're one of these Quixotes described by Rosenbaum as writers of long-form nonfiction, and you also want to report on the drug war and democracy in our América, there are pages and pages of Narco News awaiting your work. And we won't have to kill a single tree, or woo a single advertiser, in order to publish your longform work.

Rosenbaum observes:

So the cultural situation awaiting the students I dealt with was not ideal, but I admired their idealism in the face of the odds and felt sad they'd been shackled with a set of J-school fallacies that make things even more difficult, that "beat the voice out of them."
I think it has to do with the fact that J-schools profess to teach two kinds of writing: "straight reporting" (you can see the assumption of superiority built into the very phrase), and the kind of longer-form nonfiction still published in places like
Harper's, The Atlantic and The New Yorker, among others. One doesn't necessarily need an individual "voice" in straight reporting, but "voice" is often what distinguishes work in those other long-form venues. But the atmosphere of J-schools is dominated by those who sneer at anything but voiceless journalism - a sneer that is confusing to students and is, alas, based on philosophic fallacies.

If it is true - you tell us - that Journalism Schools "beat the voice out of you," well then our goal is to stop that beating right here and now and provide you with the tools and weapons to hit back.

And part of how we're going to try and foster your voice at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism is that we're going to have you, as students, report on your education, as it is happening, and we will publish your reports on Narco News.

That part of our program serves two goals.

First, all the readers and applicants who do not make it to Mérida and the Yucatán will still have access to the course materials through your reports on the presentations by our faculty. The idea is to disseminate skills and knowledge to all, not to hoard it for a few.

The second goal is this: Thousands will already be living vicariously through you, one of the six lucky bastards who got a free trip to the beach in February: what better impetus for that thing called your journalist's "voice" than to have an eager audience of interested readers who want to hear what you have to say? You'll have just won an intense competition for these scholarships. The spotlight will be on you. We're going to ask you to interview your faculty members, and each other, in words, in photos, on audio, on video, and we're going to interview you, too about what journalism students and beginning journalists have to say about authenticity in journalism in all its forms. You're going to be a player in your own education, not a victim of it.

The Columbia president's memo also provoked commentary from New York University Journalism Chairman Jay Rosen, who wrote the following in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Bollinger:


As a legal thinker he has wrestled at length with the institution of the American press and the way its fortunes affect society. He is tuned in to how journalists can miseducate us and become a danger to democracy. He's written on the threat that private media ownership, concerned mainly with profits, poses to a public good like journalism. (That issue is perhaps the most serious one in professional circles today, generating anxiety everywhere.) The man does not come from nowhere in this debate, although few of his critics seem to realize it.

A weird fact about the discussion so far is that it virtually ignores Bollinger's quite relevant 1991 book, Images of a Free Press. The point of the book is that we have one "central image" of the press, standing guard against an atavistic state and serving as the eyes and ears of the public. Thus: Hands off the media in the name of the public's right to know. That is the lesson that most journalism students inhale. It isn't wrong, Bollinger argues, but they need more. They also need to see how the press does -- and does not -- foster the kind of quality debate required if the people are to make democracy work.

Each view of the press is supported by U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but the images diverge. One pictures the modern state, aggressive and powerful, with a free press trying to shine the light, open the files, ask the tough questions. Here the press represents an absent public. A second, more fugitive image opens with modern citizens who struggle to be heard in the public arena. Here the press decides who gets heard, and when. Thus when we make decisions about limiting freedom of the press, we need to remember that the press is an actor that influences those decisions, Bollinger says.

Can journalists be a "danger to democracy"? Is private media ownership a "threat"? "The press decides who gets heard and when"? If these are accurate portrayals of Bollinger's (or Rosen's) views, we confess to be pleasantly surprised because they sound much closer to some key Narco News doctrines - that the biggest enemy of press freedom today is the commercial media's behavior and that democracy can only function if all citizens have access to the microphone and to all media, without having to pay for that access - than to the careerist and mercenary attitudes that have increasingly been associated with the top journalism schools and, sadly, most of the journalistic establishment.

If Bollinger, or Rosen, or Schell, or other J-School decision-makers would like to monitor our courses, drop me a line: The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, in spite of our sometimes humorous approach to putting the high back into higher education, comes not to destroy the Journalism School, but to reinvent it. In any case, we're being a lot nicer in our critique of the traditional J-Schools than New York magazine's Michael Wolff, who makes some sharp criticisms here.

Veteran journalist Alexander Cockburn told the New York Observer in an interview last week that, "Renewal in newspapers comes with political change... Journalism in America was renewed with the impact of Vietnam-you know, by the realization that the language of journalism in the 50's and 60's wasn't appropriate to current events."

Or, as veteran journalist Cole C. Campbell noted last week in his comments on The Great J-School Debate: "Deviants and heretics--not masters of the domain--produce breakthrough ideas."

Or Jon Katz, who wrote: "Yes, the Columbia Journalism School needs to change. So do the newspapers, magazines and TV stations hiring its graduates. But if you want to study change, go find some aging hackers to help you. They'll do better than Columbia's new blue-ribbon panel.... Journalism has become irrelevant to younger Americans."

Or my former editor at the Boston Phoenix, Dan Kennedy, who wrote: "I wonder whether Columbia might be better off taking almost a fellowship approach — similar to the Nieman program at Harvard, except that it would be for journalists at the beginning of their careers rather than in the middle."

Political change? Deviants and heretics? Aging hackers? A journalism that is relevant to young people? A fellowship for journalists at the beginning of their careers rather than in the middle? It seems we're not alone in our thoughts on this crisis. We're the Narco News Team, and to paraphrase my nominee for Journalist of the Year, Marshall Mathers, "This looks like a job for us." And for you. And we can't wait for slow-moving institutions to give us permission to do it. Let's go.

The history of the world shows that large institutions are more often changed from the outside in. If, on the inside, the Journalism School managers are truly seeking a renewed sense of mission and vision, they ought to be looking for outside opinions, and we'll be more than happy to share ours - from América's laboratory of the Authentic Journalism Renaissance - with those who, for better or worse, are training so much of the next generation of journalists. We hope that they, in the spirit of Authentic Academia and investigation, will look beyond the ivy walls for new ideas.

If you, kind reader, would like to take these courses online, or would like to come to Mérida to work and learn as a journalist, I am providing links for you below of reading materials available, free, on the Internet.

These are your core curriculum texts that should help guide your application for the scholarships. If you'd like to be one of our six recipients, I strongly urge you to read all the materials and become familiar with these themes where the drug war, democracy and journalism intersect. And then to write to salonchingon@hotmail.com to tell us the who, what, when, where, how… and why… you'd like to join us in Yucatán.

Your deadline is 45 days from tomorrow: November 15, 2002. We very much hope that you meet it.

From somewhere on a campus called América,

Al Giordano

Online Textbook:

Authentic Journalism 101

By Al Giordano and Journalists

Chapter 1: Media Theory

The Medium is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media (1997, with updated footnotes)

New Introduction (2002): The Masses vs. the Media

Opening Statement of The Narco News Bulletin (April 18, 2000)

Steal This Introduction (July 2001)

Remarks by Subcomandante Marcos on the Media

My Response to Ari Fleischer (November 2001)

Chapter 2: Media Practice

Authentic Journalism: Preston Peet Interviews Al Giordano (April 2001)

A Conversation with Al Giordano by Dan Kennedy (April 2001)

Cross Fire in the Drug War (July 2001, by Amy Langfield)

Three Days That Shook the Media (Venezuela, April 2002)

Alice In Medialand (April 2002 by Norman Solomon)

An Essay About Mario Menéndez Rodríguez (May 2000)

WBAI Interview with Mario Menéndez Rodríguez (March 2000, by Joan Moossy and Paul DiRienzo)

Interview with Exiled Colombian Journalist Alfredo Molano (July 2000)

Where Is the Press in Colombian War? (March 2002)

Community Media in Venezuela (July 2002)

Rolling Stone's Hot Muckraker 2001 (August 2001, by Mim Udovitch)

Journalist of the Year 2002 (August 2002)

Chapter 3: Journalism Ethics

The Narco-Media (May 2000, on The Media Channel)

Assassinated "Journalist" Was a Cop (May 2000)

Top Mexican Journalist Challenges New York Times (June 2000, by Carlos Ramírez)

Polemic Over a Pulitzer (September 2000, by Carlos Ramírez)

AP's Man in Bolivia Resigns Over Lobbying Role (October 2000, by Howard Kurtz)

NYT's Forero Failed to Disclose (August 2001)

Ethics Problems at Alternet (March 2002)

Journalism Student on Venezuela Media Ethics (August 2002 by Rosarys Isturiz)

Chapter 4: First Amendment Law

Drug War Goes on Trial (December 2000, by Cynthia Cotts)

Lawyers, Drugs and Money (December 2000, by Larry Goodwin)

Why The Lawsuit? To Silence Him (March 2001, by Gary Webb)

Defend Narco News (June 2001, by Peter Gorman)

Motion to Dismiss (April 2001, by Thomas Lesser, Esq.)

Giordano's Pro Se Motion to Dismiss (April 2001)

Amicus Brief (July 2001 by Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Amicus Brief (July 2001, by Reber Boult, Esq.)

Decision and Order (December 2001 by Justice Paula Omansky, NY Supreme Court)

Landmark Ruling (December 2001 by Mark K. Anderson)

A Victory, and a Precedent (December 2001 by Dan Kennedy)

For an Application to the

School of Authentic Journalism

Write to:


For more Narco News, click here

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