Many Thanks to Go Around for J-School 2010

By Al Giordano

Inaugural ceremony of the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism, February 3 at the Posada Amor in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

As we edit and post the many news stories and videos from the 2010 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico, I don’t want to miss the chance to thank a lot of people and small businesses on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula who made the school possible from behind the curtain.

For many obvious reasons, we don’t publish the locations of the school in advance or while it is happening. Among them is that in past years, people showed up unannounced at the door – some having traveled long distances – hoping to attend the classes, even offering money to do so, and we’ve always had to turn them away. But now that the ten days of intensive training and sharing have completed, we can tell you a little more detail about where we went.

The school’s inauguration was held in Puerto Morelos, a small fishing and beach community about 25 minutes from the international airport in Cancún. Many thanks to Mario Gómez of the Hotel Inglaterra and Dinora Fernández of the Posada Amor for offering discounts on beds for 65 people, meals and meeting spaces.

The Posada Amor gave us use of their grills for two abundant fish dinners with many kilos of mero (grouper) and amberjack fish donated – yes, donated – by the Cooperativa Pescadores de Puerto Morelos (the local fisherman’s union). Our profound thanks goes to the cooperative’s president, Ramon Povedano Concha and also to la licenciada Alejandra Cordova and Donasiano Luis, local residents who aided the school in important logistical needs.

The charismatic Australian expat Catriona Brown did skillful advance work in that town. Light and sound engineer David Simpson, his wife Delaina and tech team made our inaugural session the best produced television program Narco News has ever made (coming soon to an Internet screen near you).

A special thanks to the mayor of Puerto Morelos Francisco Mendoza Reyna who helped in so many ways beginning months before the j-school came to town, and who offered inspiring welcoming remarks at our inauguration.

Mayor Francisco Mendoza Reyna welcomes 65 journalists from more than 30 countries to Puerto Morelos. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

From Puerto Morelos we went to the Cancún headquarters of the daily Por Esto! where managing editor Renán Castro Madera spoke with the 65 students and professors and led a tour of its newsroom and printing press. As you might imagine, kind reader, the logistical support of the region’s biggest daily newspaper helped in a multitude of ways (and continues to help with the post production of the film to come out of the School’s documentary filmmaking work group).

From there – including on the School’s “smokers bus” donated by Urbe bus lines of Mérida, Yucatán – we caravanned to Mérida and set up campus in the Hotel Trinidad with overflow rooms provided by its sister Hotel Trinidad Galería.

The "smokers bus" arrives at the Hotel Maranatha in Playa del Carmen on February 8. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

These were the same hotels that hosted the 2003 School of Authentic Journalism. Hotels Trinidad owner Mark Swain and manager Irma were as wonderful and gracious as the previous owner, the late don Manolo, Mérida’s first and greatest patron of the arts (the hotels – every room, nook and cranny – are veritable art museums, most of which was produced years ago by starving artists who don Manolo would allow to stay at his hotels in exchange for paintings and sculptures and such).

Many of the staff of the Hotels Trinidad were the same people who worked there seven years ago (for weeks prior to the school they kept asking us if the School social director Tiberio would be coming back with his legendary mojitos, which, of course, he did, together this time with Maia Facen). Although the hotels were filled to the brim for four days and nights the receptionists, cleaning staff and everyone involved with the Trinidad Hotels worked overtime professionally and met our every need. They made us wish we could all just live there forever.

Maia Facen making mojitos at the Hotel Trinidad in Mérida while authentic journalists dance. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

The 2010 School of Authentic Journalism was cosponsored by the Economics Department at the Autonomous University of Yucatán in Mérida, thanks to the leadership of department chairman Alberto Palomino, professor Jorge Luis Canche Escamilla and anthropology professor Carlos Bojorquez. They worked tirelessly in the weeks before the School to facilitate the travel visas for many of our students as well as securing us the Felipe Carillo Puerto Theater downtown for the keynote speech of the rev. James Lawson on February 4.

Also in Mérida, don Nerio Torres, leader of the Frente Unico de Trabajadores del Volante (the taxi drivers’ union) provided generous logistical and transportation support.

And it goes without saying that the main reason we took the School to Mérida was so that our students and professors could learn from Mario Menéndez Rodríguez, the father of the authentic journalism renaissance. Mario and the entire staff at the daily Por Esto! assisted in so many ways to make the School a success and facilitated that the entire Yucatán community opened its arms to us.

Key to our stay in Mérida (and not for the first time) were our good friends (and j-school graduates) Jim and Ellen Fields of the Yucatan Living website. With expat resident Martha Lindley (who picked up the rev. Jim Lawson at the airport, escorted him for three days, and dropped him back there one early morning for his flight home) they organized the rev. Lawson’s stay at the wonderful bed & breakfast Posada Luz en Yucatán.

Ellen Fields at the graduation ceremony in Playa del Carmen. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Jim and Ellen additionally hosted a tremendous School fiesta at their Mérida home with exquisite catering by Janice Fraser, her assistant Jennifer Hames, bartender Enrique, and servers Arvi Perez and Ana Toxina. And the charismatic Lane Gallagher (best massage therapist on the peninsula, bar none) joined us there as well as coming with Ellen as invited guests to our graduation dinner the following week in Quintana Roo.

Ellen’s assistant Beatriz Echeverria conspired in a surprise for all of us (especially me) when they produced this poster in the traditional art style of bullfight and lucha libre promotions. I had never seen it until I walked into the Fields’ party, and there it was on an easel. (Copies were gifted to all the students and professors.) It was a night of great abundance and we thank Ellen and Jim profusely for their generosity and the spirit they bring to the project.

Ellen Fields and Beatriz Echeverria designed this poster and gave one to every participant in the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism. DR 2010 Mariana Simoes.

Local restaurants in Mérida that gave the School important discounts were La Blanca Merida and Los Almendros (which catered the hours long interview with Mario Menéndez at the daily Por Esto!), as well as Vito Corleone Pizza, all downtown.

From Mérida the School traveled on February 8 to its Caribbean campus, the Hotel Maranatha in downtown Playa del Carmen. This was the first time we had held an event there and its 36 rooms all surrounding a large swimming pool housed 65 students and professors plus work group headquarters for the investigative, online, documentary and video projects and also plenary sessions.

Professor Josh Bregman (who did double duty as van driver) at the poolside of the Hotel Maranatha in Playa del Carmen which for five days became a campus. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Special thanks to Carlos Macias Rojas, manager of the hotel, who for weeks in advance helped us facilitate the wiring of the hotel for wireless Internet and helped in so many other ways. The staff was professional and friendly.

Chef Marja Miranda and her crew offered fantastic breakfast buffets each day at the hotel (many participants cited those as their favorite meals). Hotel Maranatha is really an oasis of decency in fast-growing Playa del Carmen, where so many hotels and businesses are more dedicated to the fast buck over quality of service. A few blocks away from the expensive pedestrian tourist boulevard, in the middle of town, it is the pearl of Playa del Carmen. We were lucky to be able to host the School there.

Near to the hotel, two restaurants – the seafood restaurant El Gusto Jarocho on Calle 30 and El Faisan y El Venado, serving typical Yucatán traditional food, alongside the highway – hosted and fed the school to the great satisfaction of all.

Also in Playa del Carmen, Por Esto! bureau chief Manuel Chuc aided us before, during and after the School in so many ways, as did telephone workers union leader Marcos Vasquez.

Telephone workers union leader Marcos Vasquez, with Fernando Leon Romero, Mercedes Osuna and Johanna Lawrenson, at El Faisan y El Venado in Playa del Carmen. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

I would be negligent if I didn't thank the hundreds of readers who made the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism possible from a distance, those of you who donated to The Fund for Authentic Journalism, and also the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict which answered our appeal with generous matching support, as well as informational materials and experienced presenters in the curriculum on civil resistance. Without all of you, there literally would have been no j-school this year and none of the good works that have come out of it and will continue to come. Give yourselves a round of applause!

Last but not least, I’d like to thank the support staff for the school (who also doubled as professors and in one case, student).

The tech team David Briones and Chris Fee, who worked around the clock before, during and after the school to set up and maintain wireless Internet coverage among many other jobs they did to make the School a success.

Chris Fee and David Briones, keeping the wi fi and everything else working, at the Hotel Maranatha. DR 2010 Sunny Angulo.

Greg Berger and Jill Freidberg, who arrived days early to prepare the video and documentary work groups and whose work ethic was unparalleled at the School.

Greg Berger. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Jill Friedberg. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Tiberio Tinarelli and Maia Facen, as the school's "social directors," made sure that nobody was thirsty nor sad at any moment!

Tiberio and Maia. DR 2010 Sunny Angulo.

Victor Amezcua grilled many kilos of donated fish and taught students from many lands to dance salsa, as well as doing vital logistical support daily and nightly.

Victor Amezcua is called to receive his diploma at the graduation ceremony at El Gusto Jarocho in Playa del Carmen. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Mercedes Osuna of Chiapas – one of the best community organizers I’ve ever known in a lifetime of knowing the best – handled so many details, large and small. The School would not have been possible without her.

Mercedes Osuna receives her diploma. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Kristin Bricker, who along with the rest of the crew waited hours at the airport for incoming flights and shuttled students and professors to the campus.

Kristin Bricker and Fernando Leon Romero working at the poolside of the Hotel Maranatha. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Mercedes, Greg, Kristin, David and professor Josh Bregman who drove the vans and vehicles each time the school moved from the Puerto Morelos to the Mérida to the Playa del Carmen campuses.

Fernando Leon Romero – my assistant at Narco News as well as our Spanish Language Editor – who had the thankless job of knocking on every participant’s door each morning to wake them promptly at 7 a.m., often after long nights of socializing and fiesta.

Fernando Leon Romero (also in photo: Erin Rosa, Hugo Ramírez, Jillian Kestler D'Amours and Milena Velis). DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

And, finally, Johanna Lawrenson - who 25 years ago took me to Latin America on staff for the first time as she and her husband Abbie Hoffman shepherded a tour of 50 North Americans through Nicaragua – and whose skills at “herding cats” played a vital role in keeping the School and its 69 participants moving. (I suspect she had a lot to do with the fact that this was the first j-school ever in which I did not get to make an example out of someone showing up late and have the bus leave without them.)

On February 4, we all celebrated Johanna's birthday with a cake and sung "Las Mañanitas" to her.

"Congratulations compañera Johanna," on her birthday cake with ten candles... because she's a 10. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

It was Johanna and Abbie who, in my youth, invested so much time and energy in showing me the ropes of community organizing and communications, in an era when most members of their generation were too self-absorbed to pay any attention at all to us younger folks. With their lessons I also learned the necessity of building multi-generational movements and investing in the next generations. In that sense, Johanna has always been part of the inspiration for the School and the reasons we founded it eight years ago.

Johanna Lawrenson receives her School of Authentic Journalism diploma on February 12 in Playa del Carmen. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

At the closing ceremony of the School on February 13, as each participant spoke in turn, Johanna remembered a lifetime of gatherings, conferences, congresses, tours, and organizing events we have attended together. She spoke for me, too, when she said, “this one, out of all of them, was the most inspiring.”

A big part of what made it all possible was the friendliness, honesty and competence of the people and small businesses across Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. I hope all our readers can someday visit that unique land, its beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, traditional cuisine and warm and welcoming peoples. And if you have a chance to stay or eat at one of the above mentioned hotels or restaurants, you will have been as lucky and satisfied as we are with our travels there. They will leave you wanting, as we do, to return for more.


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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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