Coach's Log: The Regular Season of News Begins
By Al Giordano
The rest of the world celebrated Workers' Day on the first of May, but today is Labor Day in the United States, and tomorrow marks the kick-off of the regular news season.
Yes, news, like sports, has it's on and off seasons.
And journalism being a contact sport – especially down here, South of the Border, where injury and even death are on the rise among reporters – a lot of times I notice the similarities between NFL Football, which also begins its regular season this week, and what we do. The main difference is that this is a game with much greater consequences. What the two "sports" have in common is the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the weekly adrenaline rush, a reliance on strategic and tactical planning, and the greatest reward to those who leave it all on the field and keep on comin' against rivals bigger than them, without fear.
Very little happens, news-wise, during most summers, and recent months are no exception. So many of the top news makers and decision makers behind the stories get to take summer vacations, but most folks, at least those who are not students or professors, end up continuing with the sweaty, heavy lifting of making the world go ‘round all summer long. You know who you are.
For the freelance creative class, summer can be particularly frustrating: not much moves from Memorial Day to Labor Day, since the people who are doing the hiring and firing are in the Hamptons, or on Martha’s Vineyard, or some west coast or inland equivalent, or in a beach or mountain summer home. Most of those who are left behind in the corporate newsrooms still have to serve up a daily fare and call it “news,” and to keep their jobs have to compete with each other for the attention of the rest of us who are not at the beach. And that’s how “stories” like a pathetic Glenn Beck rally in Washington or a dust-up over a Manhattan mosque end up being spun as BIG NEWS even when they are not.
In 2009, the June 28 military coup in Honduras shocked the hemisphere and authentic journalists had to jump into the fire. I cracked open the locker, laced up my reporter’s cleats, and ran across most of that country’s territory reporting the story of the resistance to that coup here. When one gets to be my age, that kind of exertion wears one down a bit. As the years pass one becomes more aware of the creeping suggestion that there are encroaching limits to a player’s physical stamina. No matter how healthy our diet, how active our lives, Kerouac's "forlorn rags of age" eventually drape us all. That’s especially true if, when reporting from what is a kind of war zone, one doesn’t count with the budget, the five star hotels, the chauffeurs, the luxurious expense accounts and “ground control” support back at the corporate flagship: the work we do at Narco News by necessity operates more under guerrilla conditions. The silver lining is that it also keeps us independent and more real.
In the end, like NFL football, the stars of authentic journalism are young folks by necessity. Not too many dented-up veterans have racked up the Brett Favre level mileage I did doing the ground level reporting you read here in 2008 and 2009. And, like Favre, the youngsters have come to fetch me to pad up and put on a helmet in 2010, so, in the immortal words of Henry prior to the battle of Agincourt once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…
If you love the Authentic Sport, as I do, if it is your life's work, eventually you transition into the role of a coach, a process I embarked upon in 2003 with the first School of Authentic Journalism, and deepened in the 2004 and 2010 J-Schools. This year, we will invite applications for scholarships to the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism, penciled in for May of next year. Our 2006 project, the Other Journalism, in which we crisscrossed all of Mexico with the participation of more than 70 independent journalists, and the J-Schools, have brought hundreds of talents of conscience through these nomadic newsrooms, and we with more experience have coached many a younger authentic journalist to be better, faster and more coherent at this craft. And we also learn from them, from their passion, their impatience, the technological savvy and spirit of innovation, and that keeps us on our toes, and inspired, too.
So this past summer I set up a training camp, NFL style, and this week we march out onto the field to do battle. Here are the players on your Fall 2010 Season Narco News Team:
Fernando León Romero, 23, native of Mexico City, is now in his second year in this league as the Spanish language editor and increasingly sharpening his cleats as news reporter of this online newspaper. In football terms, he’s quick, agile, well studied in the playbook, the game plan and philosophy of the organization, and moves the ball down the field consistently for that first down. Of course we renewed his contract for another season. This summer, his reporting skills have advanced considerably, and you’re already seeing his byline more and more. He's been a mentor this summer to the other players on our roster...
Erin Rosa, 23, born in Spain and raised in Colorado, already has six years of on-field experience: she’s been working as a reporter since she was a teenager. She was our number one draft pick from the 2010 J-School and it took some months to sign her to the team and wrestle her from her other obligations. Assistant coach Bill Conroy assisted with that scouting mission. She arrived South of the Border in late June. A disciplined reporter, keen investigator, always looking for and finding the next story that nobody else has reported, in football terms, Rosa always tends to find the hole that nobody else sees to run through. She’s getting even better at it, too. Her projected score for the fall season is among the best in the league, and we’re doing all we can to maximize her talents. She’s also an excellent assistant coach and mentor to other young journalists, with real teaching skills. You may remember her from our video: How to Write a News Story. If you haven't seen it yet, it will soon be on Narco News TV.
Sebastian Kolendo, 22, born in Germany, raised in Wisconsin, expressed surprise when we accepted his application to the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism. "Why?" he said. Because... a journalist is one who asks questions? An Internet-savvy Wikipedia editor, he’s already told you the story of learning to use a video camera last February at the J-School. He arrived South of the Border in May knowing almost no Spanish, and with your help on our last fund drive we were able to send him to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, in its Spanish initials) for an intensive crash six-week language course. He was monolingual when he entered, and he finished his exams at the most important university in the country with a grade of B. A fast learner, Seb is currently extremely busy developing and editing the first productions of Narco News TV.
In football terms, Narco News has always been a team known for its ground game: grinding out the hard news stories with grassroots reporting from below (this political blog ain’t called The Field for nothing, after all) and knowing the turf – in news terms, the beat - better than any other news organization in the hemisphere.
Now we will make our play to rule the air as well.
Sebastian is an important part of our about-to-be-launched aerial game plan: Narco News TV. With one report already – Al Gore’s Mexican Adventure – and another likely to come out any moment now, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the NNTV platform only days away, this online newspaper now comes blitzing into the YouTube era of the Internet.
The credo we intend to live up to is: “Making Cable News Irrelevant Since 2010.”
So, stay tuned, and don’t touch that dial!
As a team, we’ve spent the summer in permanent huddle at this training camp, hammering out the playbook on each week and on every major story we’re reporting, getting each other up to speed for the Fall season. (The fact is that Internet traffic dips considerably in the summer months, and spikes dramatically starting tomorrow.)
The grizzled veteran of our team, Narco News’ director of cyber development, David Briones, 29, of El Paso, Texas, has been hammering away at our keypad for four years now, and, as he announced the other day, will soon be moving on to other gridirons. (Four years was the tenure of our first webmaster, Dan Feder, as well: for the subsistence level budget of our league, it’s about as long as we can hold onto cyber-talents like these.) If you think you’ve got the right webmaster chops – check out the job description, kind reader – there is an opening for you to join this team, right away, by following those instructions and emailing us post-haste. If you’re seriously interested in juggling Apache2 servers, Drupal upgrades, if you know that PHP is not a drug, and such, make sure to read my additional thoughts on the job, too. But don't dawdle, we've already heard from some good draft prospects...
(We also have high hopes to get Chris Fee, our newsroom coordinator, off the P.U.P. list and back onto the field, shortly.)
We are blessed with the best coaching staff of any team in the leagues of authentic journalism: the professors and graduates of the School of Authentic Journalism. In this summer’s pre-season, investigative ace Bill Conroy and viral video wizard Greg Berger did particularly outstanding work with our players, and many others – Quetzal Belmont, Noha Atef, Anne Vigna, among them - entered the newsroom and leant important hands at this summer training as well.
It occurs to me that the players I’ve just introduced you to are also, probably not coincidentally, the same age as that of most NFL football players. This is the largest full time team this coach has ever fielded.
And we accomplish it all from a locker room without a scanner, a printer, sans optimal speed Internet, and other vital tools so far. And yet you and we both just know that in spite of our economic disadvantage to the big projects, we are going to win the morning, day after day, in the weeks to come, as we've done for ten years now, putting the rest of the news media on their heels again and again and playing catch up.
When the summer began and we were still short of our spring fundraising drive goal, I rolled the dice and drafted this larger-than-ever team anyway, and simply burrowed myself into the newsroom all summer long eating cucumber sandwiches and avoiding jazz clubs to save pesos and make it possible. It made no sense to ask you for donations during the very season when, probably like me, with a little expendable cash you might have taken a short vacation of your own. Mine lasted five days in early July. How was yours? I hope it was longer than mine.
In the coming days and weeks, you’ll be hearing from our players, coaches and from me asking for your support, again: I’ve met our obligations all summer long by severely scaling down my own spending, something most of you have had to do periodically, too. You and we are the same in that way: we’re the people who work really hard in this world, and make the most out of the least, and the cubs always eat before the lions, that's how leadership goes.
But now that the fall season is underway, and you’re back at the workplace, or teaching or learning, you don’t need to wait for our next fund appeal to toss a coin into your favorite online news team’s Super Bowl cup: I have $6 dollars in the bank at present, and The Fund for Authentic Journalism is flush with a total of $8 right now. We made it through the summer doldrums with a combined $14 dollars to spare, had a very successful training camp, and now it’s time for another season kickoff and to deploy the kind of hard-hitting journalism that we’ve pioneered and defined for a decade.
So whether you have a little or a lot to spare, it would be very much appreciated at this moment. You can contribute at this link, even before the stack of fund appeals from our players and coaches I’ve collected this summer begin flowing your way.
But whether or not you’ve got the swag to help us out, you still get season tickets and a front row seat to the news we’ll be reporting this fall, because to know a a free press, a truly free press, well, free means you don’t have to pay. Period.
I hope all our readers had an excellent summer (or winter, south of the equator), and welcome you back to the start of the regular news season. And I’m pretty sure you’re gonna like your team and what we do for you even more this fall than you did already.
To those who fear and dread our reporting - the enemies of authentic democracy, human rights, justice and freedom, and the professional simulators of the corporate news media, who also check these pages daily - when you get hit hard and tackled to the ground next, hear me roar: Welcome to the NFL of Authentic Journalism: and wear a cup!
And to the rest of you who do root for this team, who share in our excitement at the start of a new season, once again, we enter the stadium together as the opening whistle blows.