Welcome to the Narcosphere

Veteran journalist Chris Lydon has a name for it: "the transformation."

A fundamental shift is underway in how politics and fundraising are practiced: from dependence on the financiers at the top levels of the economy to a more authentically democratic model of a wide base of support from below.

But the transformation is, still, too often blocked, or co-opted, by the dominant forces of the Commercial Media and the powerful interests they serve. The Commercial Media remains dependent on a single, top-down, and decaying, model of "advertising dollars" (and the corresponding targeting of upscale consumers), investors, and corporate ownership to survive. The resulting damage to democracy is evident to most people on earth.

Now is the hour for journalists to pull our weight in the transformation. We understand the enemy's sanctum: the "control rooms," and how they operate. Four years ago, Narco News began reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin America at www.narconews.com. By divorcing journalism from its jealous tyrant of capital we've already shown, from Mexico to Venezuela to Brazil to Bolivia and elsewhere, that through Authentic Journalism the conditions can be reconstructed for Authentic Democracy to flourish.

Yet journalists cannot accomplish this gargantuan task if we view ourselves as separate and apart from the people. We must earn the support and collaboration of workers in all fields. Toward that alliance and its goals, tonight we unveil The Narcosphere, where journalists and citizens come together so that journalism and citizenship can be born anew...

What Is The Narcosphere?

The Narcosphere - it appears online at http://narcosphere.narconews.com/ - is a participatory, online, forum, where readers and journalists come together to discuss, correct, add new information and relevant links, and debate the work of the journalists who publish on The Narco News Bulletin.

The Narcosphere is similar to other forums on the Internet that utilize a software named Scoop (Kuro5hin and The Daily Kos are two of the more popular examples), but with some new twists. WEBMASTER UPDATE: The Narcosphere now operates on the Drupal CMS system. We stopped using Scoop in late 2007.

First big change: We're doing away with the anonymity that historically has dominated the Internet. This is not a blanket rejection or critique of anonymity: There are still countless places online where people who choose to remain anonymous can do that, and we consider many of those forums, such as Indymedia, to be in harmony with ours. But to participate in The Narcosphere we all must sign our comments with our full name. After all, this is about journalism. Honesty and accountability are the hallmarks of Authentic Journalism, and so the price of admission includes honesty and accountability by all.

Second big change: The readers shall, from tonight onward, be the copublishers of this newspaper. We are surrendering more control than any other newspaper we know of to the copublishers. For four years I have published Narco News, and I remain as editor-in-chief of the "classic Narco News" side of this newspaper: the reported stories by Authentic Journalists throughout América. But The Narcosphere will involve the copublishers in correcting, commenting, criticizing, and bringing new and relevant information and context to each story. Every report on Narco News will now serve as a "first draft" of immediate history, and the copublishers will expand upon each report, deepen the inquiry, ask pointed questions, suggest new leads, and often do investigative reporting themselves. Every reported story on the "classic Narco News" side of the publication will have a thread of comments on The Narcosphere side. It is time for the readers to start driving the coverage of news.

Third big change: It is time for journalists to start "blogging." Most Commercial Media do not allow their reporters to maintain weblogs without censoring them. We wish to launch a conversation between our journalists and our readers, so that both groups may learn from the other, and be enriched in a better understanding about how the two sides of the journalistic divide - producer and consumer - view journalism and news. Over the coming days and weeks, we'll be introducing our "journo-blogs" (we call them Reporters' Notebooks), and the journalists behind them, to the readers. And we will also, of course, be introducing our readers to the journalists. We do beg everyone's patience on one key factor: Many of our journalists do not speak every language in our Narcosphere. Some only speak Spanish. Others speak only Portuguese. Others, still, speak only English. Still others are new to "Internet language" such as html code. The process of translating, rapidly, these conversations is going to be a daunting task and will take some time to develop. But this kind of translation - not only of words, but of cultures and concepts that are distinct in different lands - offers one of the great promises and potentials of The Narcosphere: breaking the information blockades across language barriers and cultures.

Fourth big change: To become a copublisher, you have to show, and maintain, good faith toward the other copublishers and the project. The Internet is overflowing with commentators that are often called "trolls," whose main goal is, too often, the derailment of the project. Our break from anonymity solves a large part of that problem. This is how we solve the rest of it: Copublishers are, in a sense, investors, except the rules are distinct from those of Wall Street. To qualify for a copublisher account you have to invest. For journalists, that means writing news stories and columns that rise to Authentic Journalism standards of publication. We already count with dozens of journalists who have received scholarships from, or taught at, the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, or who have published their work on Narco News. Each of them is already in the door. For readers, that means investing your money or your time in the project. The fastest, easiest, way to qualify for your copublisher account is to make a donation to The Fund for Authentic Journalism, which is supporting this project. Or you can donate your labor (by translating or by contributing your talents in some other way that we consider a substantial, non-monetary, contribution). Copublishers have to abide by a few simple rules to keep us legal and never boring. Violating those minimal rules (no partisan electoral campaigning, no financial solicitations, that sort of thing) are grounds for losing a copublisher account.

Fifth big change: Copublishers will largely regulate each other, and will do it collectively. You will be able to "rate" (or vote on) the value of each comment made. Comments and Reporters' Notebook entries that receive the highest votes will be linked from page one of Narco News, and in the center column of The Narcosphere. We don't know of any other project in journalism that allows readers to place stories on the front page, but we think it's a necessary step in the Authentic Journalism renaissance. I believe it is so important that I am surrendering that power to the copublishers. Those copublishers who participate consistently and who receive high ratings from other copublishers will be granted "trusted user status," and those copublishers will be able to vote to "hide" comments that they feel are made in bad faith. They'll also be able to vote to take an unfairly hidden comment and place it back in public view.

Obviously, we are just beginning with so many new features, and this process will involve some trial and error. We'll be updating and evolving based on our lived experience with this project. Copublishers and readers will be involved in guiding the direction.

And so we begin anew!

We begin, tonight, by introducing you to our new South American Bureau Chief, Alex Contreras Baspineiro (click the link to read of his rise from School of Authentic Journalism scholarship recipient a year ago to the helm of our biggest office today). Contreras files a story, also tonight, with a chronology of how the U.S. Embassy and others have abused the "war on terrorism" in his native country of Bolivia to fight against democracy, not for it. And I've filed a story, also from Bolivia, Part II of a series to which we'll be offering team coverage in the coming days and weeks, about the prosecution of Colombian peace negotiator Francisco "Pacho" Cortés, in Bolivia, where he has been accused of "narco-terrorism."

These are just our opening salvos.

Tomorrow, on Tuesday, February 17th, Narco News will makes another new move: we are entering the field of book publishing, and we're doing it online. A leading investigative journalist in Texas - we'll introduce him to you tomorrow - has completed an outstanding, fourteen chapter, book about corruption and ineptitude in the U.S. Customs Service (now part of the Homeland Security Administration) along the U.S.-Mexico border. We'll be publishing, online, the supporting documents, transcripts, and evidence, so that readers can come to your own conclusions of the seriousness of the problems inside this government agency.

Later this week, Mexican journalist Luis Gómez, who served for the past two years as our Andean Bureau Chief, and all the administrative and journalistic tasks that entailed, will now dedicate himself exclusively to investigative journalism. Gómez will file an important news story, later this week, about events in yet another South American country.

Also tonight, we launch the first of thirty "Reporters' Notebooks" on The Narcosphere. We'll be introducing them, and the Authentic Journalists who will be writing them, one at a time in the coming days and weeks. Essentially, these are weblogs by journalists, in which those readers who choose to be copublishers of Narco News will also participate.

First up, reporting from Venezuela and introducing his Cowboy In Caracas blog: Charlie Hardy, known already to readers as a professor of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism and as one of the hemisphere's most coherent and dynamic columnists who shares seventeen years of on-the-ground experience from the barrios of Caracas. Charlie, a former Catholic priest, begins by recalling his first impressions when he moved to Venezuela so many years ago: "The point that I would like to establish at the very beginning of my blogging life is that I grew up hating the word 'shit.'" As I've said before, Hardy's columns resurrect a golden age in newspaper columns from the unique perspective of a man who lives among the people and events he writes so compellingly about. He'll be "in the sphere" from today onward, blogging you the news from the always newsworthy Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

You'll also be hearing a lot from the member of Civil Society who played a pivotal role in resurrecting Narco News, after the Big Money interests almost destroyed us last October for our refusal to be censored. Andrew Grice, treasurer of The Fund for Authentic Journalism, will also have a blog on Narco News. He'll be captaining the funding end of the operation, and maintaining the wall between money and news that, like separation of Church and State, is necessary to democracy and Authentic Journalism alike.

So, check out our first news stories as we relaunch Narco News, and apply for your copublisher account (tonight we start processing the 118 applications received to date, most of which have already been approved).

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.