A Letter Worth Reading Before the Year Ends

 
Dear Friend,
 
So much has changed since a little online newspaper named Narco News was born almost 14 years ago. On the first day of publication, in 2000, it made the bold assertion that Latin America would be the place where the so-called “war on drugs” would be toppled, paving the way for the rest of the world and even the United States. “The movement will be multi-national, involving many Latin American nations,” I wrote. “History is in the making.”
 
Many people thought that was nuts: Maybe you were one of them. Well, 2013 will now go down in history as the year that it happened. The first country to legalize marijuana, Uruguay, did it from South America, and it is only a matter of time before its neighbors - and then the rest of the world - do the same.
 
Narco News started the ball rolling with hard-hitting investigative reporting and the creation of a language conducive to the birth and growth of a social movement. A lawsuit that attempted to silence us in our first year by a narco-banker didn’t hurt. It actually helped the project gain global attention and grow from one online muckraker to, now, an international network of hundreds of journalists, organizers and change-makers who train each other and have each other’s backs. One story at a time, we created that language that the rest of the Americas adopted to begin the end of drug prohibition. Should we be jumping up and down declaring victory and dancing in the end zone? We’re proud of our unique role in that chapter of history, but we’re not ones to rest on any laurels. We take each triumph along the road and always do the heavy lifting to make sure that the next victory is even larger.
 
Narco News was never content to be a one-trick pony. We expanded our reporting to expose and confront so many injustices, not just those of the drug war (although we continue to do that, too). And we started a school to train new generations of authentic journalists and history makers, a program that after ten years is still the only one of its kind on earth.
 
In our third year when we ran out of resources and briefly stopped publishing, our own readers revolted and formed The Fund for Authentic Journalism, the 501c3 nonprofit organization that has supported our journalists – and the School of Authentic Journalism – through many small donations that have added up to make so many great works possible.
 
In these final days of the year, you’re probably receiving emails and letters from many organizations seeking your help. This is a time of year when people make tax-deductible donations that can also help the donor reduce his and her own coming tax burdens. Many of those projects are very worthy. Let me give you my view on why this one is so unique and deserving of every cent you can give it that it is worth prioritizing over others.
 
In almost any discussion about the state of the world and its countries, the conversation eventually turns to “the problem of the media.” Everybody complains about the media, and almost nobody does anything about it. Part of the problem is that most of the publications and projects that call themselves “alternatives” to big media end up replicating its worst vices of pack journalism, sensationalism, pandering to advertisers or trying to shock you, the reader, in order to get more hit counts and thus more advertisers. 
 
Narco News has a very wide and influential readership, and in two languages! Advertisers come to us all the time offering obscene amounts of money if we would only let them put ads on our pages. For more than 13 years we have said “no” each and every time. We believe that advertising is the worst villain in turning what used to be a free press into one that is bought and paid for. And over these years while so many flash-in-the-pan “alternative media” operations had to close up shop, we’re still here, because we didn’t crash on the rocks seeking the siren call of the easy buck. If a media organization doesn’t have absolute integrity, it can’t be trusted on any other matter. Our own definition of integrity has no price. That’s probably obvious after so many years.
 
And what are we doing about “the problem of media” that nobody else is doing? This year we held the sixth School of Authentic Journalism. We’ve trained hundreds of young people intensively in the martial arts of investigative reporting, online journalism and the making of “viral videos” on urgent problems and solutions that in only a few days receive more views than most long-form documentaries will ever reach. Narco News began doing that before YouTube existed! We’re pioneers in that field and continue to stay a step ahead of the pack, always innovating and improving how we do it. If you haven’t seen the latest from Narco News TV, make sure to check out “Frack U. Mexico” for your year-end enjoyment and ongoing political education:
 

 
Another thing that makes this project unique is that you, the reader, are not a spectator or a consumer, but, rather, a core participant in the project. It’s you that makes our videos and news stories “go viral” by sharing them on social networks and talking about them with your friends. It’s you who points young talents of social conscience toward us and encourages them to apply for the School of Authentic Journalism. And it’s you – and only you and people like you – that make the many donations that add up, year after year, into a tsunami of creative and effective action that reliably changes history for the better time and time again.
 
Those small donations have been our insurance policy from ever being tempted to sell out or dealing from a position of weakness. When we have been fortunate enough to draw larger support for our school and other projects, those organizations have always had to respect that we’re going to do things our way with fierce independence and they know that it’s true because our network of individual supporters is large enough to sustain our work with or without major grants.
 
We’re not a dry “nongovernmental organization,” nor another “activist mag” that preaches to the converted and tells people only what they want to hear because of the tendency to confuse hit counts with relevance. Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism are projects with personality! We’ve never stopped being feisty and daring about our work and we never will. It’s not on our DNA to do so. As such, we regularly piss some people off. Well, that’s part of the work of authentic journalists, too. Anybody who is not doing that is never going to make real changes in this world.
 
One has to be a rebel to change the world. We’re rebels with staying power. That includes our reporters, our professors, our scholars and, as importantly to all of us, our readers and donors. Just donating to this project makes you an authentic rebel, too. And it feels good, doesn’t it?
 
Now, “the pitch.” It’s simple enough:
 
To make the 2014 School of Authentic Journalism happen (you can read all about it here) and for another year of investigative reports and uncommon analysis to occur on these pages, we need your help to do it.
 
Please make as generous a contribution as you can (and for many people, ten dollars is as generous as ten thousand would be for someone else). You can do it right now via this link online:
 
http://www.authenticjournalism.org
 
Or you can send a check to:
 
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
P.O. Box 1446
Easthampton, MA 01027 USA
 
Finally, I’d just like to personally thank you. I planned this project in my 30s, grew it from an "I" to a very big "we" in my 40s, and now, in my 50s, I get to be the ringleader of what I consider the most fun way to do meaningful work possible. Every day I see the seeds we planted with stories we reported years ago, or through the work of a younger journalist or organizer who refined her and his talents at our school, bear positive fruit for a better world. Our own role in bringing about the Latin America-led changes in drug policy is only one of many such victories. 
 
And not a day goes by that I don’t think about you, the reader, and how you’ve made it all happen. I may be the director of the project, but I have one, and only one, boss and that’s all of you together. I hope you’ve enjoyed this “annual report,” Chief, and with your continued support I look forward to giving you another one next year.
 
From somewhere in a country called América,
 
Al
 

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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