This is my reply to an open letter and response concerning the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico, which I attended as a student. It’s written in the same spirit as my open letter to Democracy Now!: we must continually evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of independent media in order to be effective.
Hi Al and friends,
Excellent reply. I thought the open letter and response would be linked from the Narco News homepage. Also, why isn’t it open to comments? Is anyone actually going to see it, just sitting there in the lab section of the site?
My reaction to the letter was the same as yours: would have considered signing had it not been for the last paragraph. Even then, the questions seem premised on a guilt-by-association mode of thought, so I don’t think I’d have signed. Maybe if they were worded differently.
But I respect the desire to ask questions of a think tank that is not very transparent, that emanated condescension and indifference at the school, that made a grave mistake in 2005 for which its President did not apologize. One of the positive things I can imagine coming out of this is for the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) to respond with some new, useful level of detail and coherence about who they are and what they do.
I’ve had friendly conversations with some of the TeleSur reporters you mentioned. I disagree with them strongly. They are convinced the ICNC is a malevolent organization, likely a front for the US government, and I haven’t seen the evidence for that yet. They can’t stomach having anything to do with the group. To me the ICNC appears more disorganized and clueless, when it comes to Latin America, than anything else.
People should judge us journalists principally on our body of work. The notion that merely going to a school in Mexico for ten days where the ICNC gave some presentations irreparably taints me, or casts lasting doubt on my journalistic independence is repulsive. It’s an insult to the intelligence of the school’s participants and grassroots organizations in various countries that have listened to the group’s spiel.
What you said about journalists’ willingness to be fired from their jobs is right-on. As I explained at the school, I’ve been approached by various corporate media since the earthquake in Haiti. I will use them to fund my work and reach wider audiences, with the expectation that I might choose to end the relationship or be fired at any moment because of their penchant for sensationalism, misinformation, and incompetence.
My integrity will never depend on a salary. I know that if I’m doing valuable work in today’s wired, increasingly diverse media economy, an audience will be there to support it. That’s why I came to Haiti, back when no one paid much attention to the place, full of hope and confidence.
One thing I agree with some critics on: it would have helped to invite and address all questions specifically about the ICNC’s role in the school in a prominent public form at the start – whether by blog post or in person. This was a brewing controversy already familiar to many involved with the school. I’m reminded of the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry’s 2004 run for US President, which his campaign ignored and thought other people would ignore. It was a mistake – even though the accusations had no basis in fact, they spread by various means and became a huge issue.
I wouldn’t have been distracted at times, wondering if a few long plenaries with Jim Lawson, Jack DuVall, et al. were a condition of the money, had it been crystal-clear that the ICNC’s participation in the school was strictly at your invitation from the beginning. And I have no doubts about that now.
I was hoping for more a little more hands-on journalism and civil resistance training from the school. The content of the ICNC’s lectures on non-violence didn’t strike me as groundbreaking (or manipulative) material. The dynamics of non-violent civil resistance are best understood in the midst of a movement, but an overview of its history and tactics can learned from books, films, and independent research.
The vital practice of authentic journalism cannot be learned this way. This is why the School for Authentic Journalism is so important, why it deserves the support of citizens and institutions the world over. I hope to return.
Those are my thoughts for today. I recorded audio of the multi-hour debate about the ICNC that took place on February 11 within the school. If anyone is interested in reviewing it, contact me by e-mail.
And now back to work. Hopefully no more aftershocks for a while!