From May 11-21 I was one of 79 journalists, organizers, and educators who gathered in the State of Morelos in Mexico to attend the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. The school takes a unique approach – both with content and structure – in exploring the field of journalism, particularly in its role covering social movements across the globe. The school was founded and is organized by Al Giordano, the editor of Narco News and a man who started organizing at a young age as part of the anti-nuclear power movement in the United States. Check out this interview I conducted with him in 2009. The school consisted of a mixture of plenary sessions where we got to hear seasoned journalists from a variety of mediums (video, photo, and print), contemporary organizers and veterans from nonviolent movements, and scholars of civil resistance. Below I outline an extensive overview, going through each day, of what I experienced at the school along with links to others’ reflections and articles about the participants and the school.
Wednesday, May 11, 2010
Arrival in Mexico City
I arrived at the airport and was greeted by Greg Berger – one of the school’s organizers – and some of the participants. We all checked into the Hotel Greco – just a few miles from the Mexico City airport and got ourselves settled. Having not eaten anything since 8am, I took a stroll through Mexico City and grabbed a bite to eat.
At 6pm all of the participants walked to a restaurant near the hotel, had dinner and Al introduced the entire school. Al referenced the famous painter, Pablo Picasso, to explain what being an “authentic journalists” means. Picasso would look at his subject from all sorts of angles before putting his brush to the canvas. Authentic journalism follows a similar approach. Authentic journalists look at their story from a variety of perspectives and angles before putting pen to paper. Authentic journalists recognize that the journalist has his/her “truth” and the various individuals and organizations that are part of a story have their own “truths” as well. So the role of the authentic journalist is to seek out all these truths in an effort to reveal a larger truth.
We then watched a 13-minute video about how Egyptians made their own media to to tell the story of their revolution. This video would become one of the focal points of the school as students would be working on it over the next 8 days to add subtitles in both Spanish and Arabic.
After Al’s introduction, each participant – all 82 of us – were given the microphone and asked to introduce ourselves. This took a very long time, not only because there were 82 of us, but also because everything that people said had to be translated from Spanish to English or visa versa. So, even though these intros took about two hours, it was great to see how many amazing people from all walks of life and from all regions of the world were present. Participants came from countries such as Colombia, USA, Kenya, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Ireland, UK, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Honduras, Spain, Egypt, and, of course, Mexico.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Trip to the State of Morelos
We boarded buses at 10am (one smoking bus and one non-smoking bus), and headed to the state of Morelos, where the rest of the school was going to take place. The trip took about 2 hours, during which time I had the pleasure of sitting next to and getting to know Will, a journalist from the UK who has been working as a reporter in Burma for the last three years.
When we arrived, we were all pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the school “headquarters” and the mountainous landscape that surrounded us.
After lunch we were broken into one of three work groups – viral video, online journalism, or investigative journalism. I was assigned to be a “professor” in the viral video group. I put “professor” in quotes because the school’s philosophy is that throughout the school students are professors and professors are students and that we are all expected to learn from one another – a philosophy that flourished and proved beneficial throughout the ten days.
During our work group sessions, the concept of viral videos was introduced by one of the participants saying that “in order for a video to go viral, people who know each other have to share with it with each other. We won’t stop to look at something that is boring or slow. If it is boring in the first thirty seconds the viewer is probably going to turn away and not finish it. The video has to be fun.” It was also mentioned that term viral media was coined by Douglas Rushkoff in the mid-90’s.
I think it is important to distinguish, however, the difference between online content that goes viral without any type of dissemination strategy vs. viral videos that go viral because there was a concerted effort in spreading, sharing, and promoting that media. Some may contend whether or not the latter would even be considered “viral,” but in this day and age, with copious amounts of digital content online, there is a lot of competition and creators of that content have to put in the effort to ensure their creations are seen, heard, and read through all the noise and clutter that can, at times, define the internet.
We then took 45 minutes for everyone to introduce them selves. But to ensure we did not have a repeat of the two-hour marathon intro sessions from the night before, everyone was first given two minutes to write down two things that they would like to learn about video creation and distribution over the next eight days. Then they wrote down two skills that they are bringing to the group and can share with everyone. As we went around and introduced ourselves, people wrote down the names of the people who have skills that they want to learn. They were then asked to take the next 24 hours and ensure that they approached that person and to tell them more specifically what they want to learn from that person and for what purpose.
We were then informed that we will be teaming up with the online journalism group to help the Egypt video go viral, discussing the role of using the right keywords on YouTube and why they are important.
Plenary Sessions with Oscar Olivera
Summary: Oscar Olivera was one of the leaders in Bolivia’s Cochabamba Water Wars – a movement that successfully prevented the privatization of Bolivia’s water resources in that region. Olivera described the Cochabamba water wars as a turning point in the history of Bolivia because starting at that point people started to organize around recuperating what was theirs. Check out this article on Oscar Olivera on Narco News.
Three central themes of his talk were:
(1) In the entire world, since 1994 with the cry for enough in Chiapas, Mexico, there has been a process of “standing up of the people.”
(2) The ways in which people invent and create the visibility of standing up and the role of journalists and the media in making that visibility possible.
(3) How these processes of standing up for one’s self and the ways in which those are expropriated and displaced by the groups that we are fighting against. And what we can do to make that energy of the people permanent. How we can make that power that we gain and autonomy and make that permanent.
Here are some of my key take-aways from the plenary sessions (in tweet form):
It is not enough to say, “enough!” Our challenge is to say, “What do we want? Who are we?” – Oscar Olivera #saj2011
“Journalists have to listen very carefully to how people bring meaning back into their own words” -Oscar Olivera #saj2011
Oscar Olivera: “I would rather be part of the power from below rather than the power from above.” #saj2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
Core Dynamics of Civil Resistance
Morning Plenary with Jack DuVall
Summary: Jack DuVall, president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict delivered a presentation on the basic theory and history of civil resistance. Here are some of my key take-aways from the plenary sessions (in tweet form):
DuVall: “Civil resistance movements do the work of democracy before democracy is open for business” #saj2011
DuVall: ‘Movements have to finish with the agenda they started with before they expand the agenda.” #saj2011
DuVall: Emergent properties of civil resistance – consent, rationality, self-rule, representation, resilience, transformation #saj2011
DuVall: “Movements transform. Everyone becomes a stakeholder in the change and a shareholder in the cost of the change.” #saj2011
DuVall: “Leaders of nonviolent movements do not offer themselves up as heroes. They recognize the heroism of the everyday people.” #saj2011
DuVall: “All nonviolent movmnts and campaigns must represent the aspirations and grievances of the people. They LISTEN to people” #saj2011
DuVall: “can’t have civil resistance unless you respect the minds of the people. Can’t force people to join a nonviolent movement” #saj2011
Duvall: “In civil res people become the opposite of sheep. They understand the power of consent, giving it or withholding it” #saj2011
“Presumed Guilty” Film Screening
Several of the participants gathered to watch the documentary film, Presumed Guilty, which is the story of two young lawyers and their struggle to free Zúñiga. With no background in film, Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete set about recording the injustices they were witnessing, enlisting acclaimed director Geoffrey Smith (The English Surgeon, POV 2009) to tell this dramatic story.
Afternoon Viral Video Workgroup
Summary: Greg Berger gave a presentation on how to make and disseminate viral videos. He used some of his video, Spring Breakers without Borders, as an example. Here are some of the key points that were shared.
- Creating event on Facebook to watch the video. Asking 100 people to post the video on ten of their friends Facebook pages, and to share it on Twitter. And to contact important blogs that report on issue related to content.
- Whenever you are going to cover an event there is a simple method to follow to make sure you have footage to edit with – 3×3 method. Get a wide shot, something that shows something at a very big scale. Then you want to get some medium shots. You always want to concentrate on details, like someone’s cigarettes or someone’s hands. Get 3 wide shots, 3 medium shots, and 3 close ups.
- Don’t use the zoom unless you really know how to use the camera. Avoid the drunk uncle at a wedding style. If you are going to do a zoom, its better to do a slow zoom.
- Framing an interview. It is important to understand the language of filming interviews. Camera should be at the eye level of the interviewee. If shot from above, the person will look small. If shot from below, the person will look big or looming. Try not to cut off people’s heads.
- Always look for lines to guide your shot. Always think about the lines whenever you are shooting.
- Be aware of whether or not you are shooting in Standard Definition (SD) vs. High Definition (HD). Either one will work, just make sure that all your footage is in the same definition, otherwise the final product will look weird.
- Make sure to white balance your camera. Before using the camera, find something white (a piece of paper or t-shirt) and then click the white balance button to let the camera register what white is.
Evening Plenary with Ivan Marovic
Summary: Ivan Marovic, one of the leaders of Otpor youth movement in Serbia that helped oust Slobodan Milosevic from power in 2000, spoke about forming and sustaining a nonviolent movement. Much emphasis was placed on the importance of humor to keep the movement exciting, happy and engaging. He also spoke about dilemma actions, which puts the movement’s adversary in a position where no matter how they react or respond it will end up being a bad decision. Check out this article about Ivan from Narco News.
Here are some my key take-away from the plenary session (in tweet form):
Giordano: “Listening to Ivan Marovic think out loud is learning how to think in a different way.” #saj2011
Marovic: A protest is not a movement, it is just one kind of tactic people can use in a movement. #saj2011
Marovic: A movement taps into the energy and momentum found in a protest, but can last for years. #saj2011
Marovic: “Ten people in the street is not news. Ten people in the street doing something silly is news.” #saj2011
Marovic: Otpor recruited people by having them enter with a bang – do an action, get trained, build skills, feel empowered. #saj2011
Marovic: Infiltration into Otpor did not work because police had no young infiltrators and thought someone else was behind Otpor #saj2011
Marovic: Otpor considered anything that damaged its image as being “violent.” #saj2011
Marovic: “Took me ten years to finish my studies. Because if there is nothing else to do, why finish. Gave us time to organize.” #saj2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Radio Media and Making Money with Your Work
Morning Plenary (Part One) with Andrew Stelzer
Summary: Radio journalist, Andrew Stelzer, shared some tips on how to capture and use audio. He also spoke about how your work could generate some income for you as an independent journalist. Check out this article about Andrew from Narco News.
There are several things that we can do as journalists that do not require video: (1) Photographers can make and share audio slide shows; (2) Print journalists can have short audio interviews of people featured in their story linked or embedded into their print article; (3) If you write a story for a magazine, get a radio station to interview you about the story; (4) And if no one wants to interview you, get a friend to do it and put it at the bottom of the story as a podcast.
If one wants to transform video into audio, keep these tips in mind.
- People speaking in the video should identify themselves verbally as opposed to having subtitles.
- Long periods of silence (text on the screen) will not translate into to straight audio.
- You should capture ambient sounds of the place where you are recording.
- With radio you want to get at least sixty seconds of sound vs. a video you want at least ten seconds of an establishing shot.
Where do people listen to the radio? Usually when people are listening to the radio, they are doing something else at the same time. You would assume that their attention span is fleeting. Do not use big words and do not use a lot of numbers because if the listener has to start doing math, they are going to miss what is being said in the next sentence.
How to make money using radio. Free speech radio is part of the Pacifica radio network. The networks values are peace, social justice, and human rights. They prefer to have the reporters be from the communities on which they are reporting.
Here are some other tips Andrew shared about recording audio.
- Try the free audio editing program, Audacity
- Capture the sound of the room
- Do not hand the microphone to the person you are interviewing
- Speak directly into the microphone or to the side to prevent popping
- Record in .wav as opposed to .mp3
- Do not make noise while the other is speaking, just communicate with body language (nodding, eyes, etc.)
- Do not run fingers across the microphone while interviewing.
Covering Victims of Violence
Morning Plenary (Part Two) with Kara Dan
Summary: Kara talked about her work covering stories in areas of conflict and with communities that have experienced violence and trauma.
Here are some of my key take-aways from the plenary sessions (in tweet form):
audience comment: when reporting on violence and homicide, try not to create a hierarchy of victims. #saj2011
comment: By asking someone to recount events of violence committed against them or their loved ones is a form of re-traumatization. #saj2011
Berger: If you report on 1,000 deaths it can mean nothing, but if you report on one specific death it can have incredible impact #saj2011
Summary: We spent some time organizing and scheduling teams of people to be responsible for recording (audio and video) of plenaries. Each team was told that they are responsible for setting up, recording, uploading files, recharging batteries, and then ensuring that the next team knew where the equipment (cameras, memory cards, tripods, batteries, etc) were located.
Milena led a breakout session on using Final Cut Pro
Making Videos Go Viral
Evening Plenary with Greg Berger
Summary: The plenary was cut short due to an intense thunderstorm. We all remained under the thatched roof shelter to protect ourselves from the rain. As the winds, rain, thunder and lightning intensified, the power soon went out in the entire area and the entire groups was left in area lit by only the occasional flash of lightning from the clouds above and candles resting on the floor below. We soon were all gathered together singing songs from our respective countries.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Reporter Safety in Conflict Zones
Morning Plenary w/ Mercedes
Summary: Mercedes spoke about her role working with outsiders and journalists who want to cover the Zapatistas. She shared several stories about what journalists should and should not do when entering or writing stories about communities of which they are not a part. An interesting conversation was started when someone asked what a journalist should do if they witness abuses committed by the movement or community they are covering. When is it appropriate to cover that story (possibly violating the trust of that community) vs. not covering the story so as to withhold judgment of the community’s actions and instead let them sort out the issue themselves.
Sorry, no tweets. As you can tell from this photo, I was occupied filming the plenary.
Breakout Session on putting together a storyboard w/ Nathan
How to Make Your Videos Go Viral
Evening Plenary w/ Greg Berger
Summary: This was continued from the previous night’s plenary session that was cut short due to the thunderstorm. He showed three online videos: “Spring Breakers without Borders” and others. Check out this article about Gringoyo from Narco News.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Field Trip to Tepozteco
Summary: Walked from the center of town to the base of the mountain. During our walk through the town we were joined by one of the many stray dogs that were roaming and lounging in the streets. The dog ended up following us all the way up the mountain.
Summary: My workgroup filmed Nathan taking elements of Ivan’s Otpor barrel story and turning them into cartoons.
I led a breakout sessions on tips and strategies for distributing online video and digital media. I spent that first ten minutes building off Greg’s presentation on the topic, asking people to recall some of the tips and strategies he mentioned in the previous night plenary. I, along with others in the group then added some specific tips and strategies and then thinking about them in context with each group’s specific videos. I mentioned the following:
- We should think about the timing of when one decides to distribute their video. If you make a video about the environmental movement, plan on releasing it on Earth Day, for example, to ride the wave of news coverage, interest and attention on environmental issues.
- Engage in and elicit conversation about your video. Social media is about conversation, not just about pushing content but actually talking about it.
- Post your video as a response/comment to other videos with similar themes.
- Subscribe to other YouTube channels that report on and post videos related to your content.
- Invite other YouTube users to view your content. YouTube is not just an online video library. It is also a social network where connections can and should be made.
- When sharing content on Facebook, don’t just post the link; ask your network an interesting, controversial, or thought-provoking question.
- If you are asking people to share their thoughts on a video and they see that others have already entered the conversation, they are more likely to actually watch the film. The conversation and the invite to join the conversation are an incentive.
- If people re-post or retweet your video, thank them! Just like in-person, acknowledging and thanking people is essential for developing and cultivating your online relationships.
Happy Hour (organized by Investigative Journalism Group)
We all celebrated Will’s birthday. Noha Atef and Katie Halper put on a comedy show. And yes, they brought out a piñata.
Case Study: South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Struggle
Evening Plenary w/ Dr. Janet Cherry
Summary: She started with a call and response chant: Amandla! She read a poem called Ubuntu (include link) after Tespho talked about what that work means. She showed two examples of movements being covered in the media. The first was a recent example of a service delivery demonstration where one of the protesters was beaten by the police and then shot, at point blank, with a rubber bullet, which ended up killing him.
Check out this article about Janet Cherry from Narco News.
Tuesday May 17, 2011
Civil Resistance and Anti-Imperialists Struggles
Morning Plenary w/ Dr. Stephen Zunes
Summary: Dr. Stephen Zunes spoke about the rich history and powerful strategy of nonviolent action, particularly in anti-imperial struggles. He began by referencing George Lucas, who said that the Vietnamese inspired his use of the Ewoks in the Star Wars trilogy – indigenous peoples that uses booby traps and other devices to defeat the imperial power. Some of the examples of nonviolent anti-imperial examples of civil resistance he shared were the anti-Pinochet movement in Chile, the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the People Power Movement in the Philippines, Sudan, Bolivia, Nepal, Maldives, pro-democracy struggles in Tunisia and Egypt. Most people are more familiar with civil resistance in the “colored revolutions” as opposed to the other struggles, because the MSM only like to cover the struggles that are used against regimes that the US does not like, as opposed to the struggles that defeat governments that are friendly and supported by the US government.
Check out this article about Stephen Zunes from Narco News. And here are some of my key takeaways (in tweet form):
Strategic nonviolent action is the ultimate form of asymmetrical warfare. It uses the weight and power of the state against itself.
Authentic journalists should spread the word about the effectiveness of civil resistance and remind people of their power.
Zunes: when resisting a violent regime, mass demonstrations in streets not he most strategic choice if violence is to be avoided #saj2011
Case Study: The U.S. Antinuclear Movement
Morning Plenary (part two) with Renny Cushing
Summary: Renny Cushing, Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, spoke about how he started as an organizer in the anti-nuclear movement during the 1970s. Al began the plenary by differentiating between an activist and an organizer. Renny asked the audience to imagine a time when there was no internet, no cell phones, no YouTube, no Facebook and yet people were still able to organize.
Check out this article about Renny from Narco News.
In the late seventies large energy monopolies were taking people’s land and homes without any consultation. They way in which Renny and others helped lead a movement and organize communities to resist the take over of this nuclear power plant is by not just talking about protecting their homes and their jobs, but also protecting their democracy.
1400 people ended up getting arrested – in a town of 4000 people. Largest mass arrest in the state’s history and the governor kept these people in five national guard armories for two weeks. This made news because it had never been done before. It became an iconic moment. When people were released it turned into a source of inspiration. It provided and organizing model for other communities resisting the construction of nuclear power in their towns.
Here are some of my key takeaways (in tweet form):
Cushing: Clamshell Alliance and the anti-nuclear movement good example of organizing small, community struggle to have large impact #saj2011
Anti-nuclear movement an example of taking a small community struggle and building it so that it has impact in other places.
Cushing: Organizing was kind of like going “viral,” but you actually had to talk to people.
It is important to protect the base. It is important for people to know that you will not abandon them.
Dancing sometimes is a revolutionary act.
Key Mechanics in Still Photography
Breakout session with Noah
Summary: Noah focused on post-production photography. Three main elements that make a good photo: composition, lighting, and timing. Digital cameras are difficult when it comes to timing. The problems with digital cameras is the delay from when you push the button to when the shutter opens and closes. In other words, the shutter can be slow. The best thing he can recommends when using small digital cameras is to have your finger on the shutter, half-way down so you are already focused on what you want to capture in the photos.
The second, in terms of lighting, is that the best time to take photos is in the first 2-3 hours of the day and the day and the last 2-3 hours of the day, when the sunlight is beautiful. But you can’t always guarantee you can shoot during those times, ergo learn to control your flash better. You can control the flash with what’s called a stop. If the lighting is good you will have good photos.
There are no perfect rules that will help you with composition, but there are some guidelines that can help. In general, its best not to put the person right in the center of the photo. There is something called the “rule of thirds,” that divided the photo into nine different sections. The face should be somewhere in one of the four corner points.
In terms of covering events, it is important that you get a lot of different shots of the same event – close ups (portraits and details – hands, signs), mid-range, and wide shots. Wide/establishing, portraits, details, actions are they kinds of shots you should plan on taking. Normally, Noah takes 400 photos from an event and he hopes that ten of them will be good.
He uses the free program, Photo Mechanic, which works on on both PC and Mac.
Do you want a photo just for the internet? Standard size is 72dpi and 10 inches. If you want it for printed publication the minimum should be 300dpi and 10 inches on the longest side. If you want to print it for a poster you want it to be as large as possible.
Happy Hour Organized by Online Journalism Group
We had a series of potato sack races!
Social Mobilization and Human Rights in Guatemala
Evening Plenary (part two) with Roddy Brett
Summary: Roddy covered the same material and history that he did in his webinar for ICNC. At the end he talked about a theme that had been constant throughout the school and one with which he disagreed – that a movement should be happy and fun. This seemed to be a debate emerging among the group.
Sorry, no tweets. The internet was down during the plenary 😦
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Morning Plenary (Part One) with Bill Conroy
Summary: Bill Conroy, a seasoned journalist covering the drug war along the US/Mexico border, talked about how he has conducted his investigative journalism over the years and the various ways his work has angered government officials, police, and security forces on both sides.
Check out this article about Bill Conroy from Narco News.
Sorry, no tweets. The internet was down during the plenary 😦
Morning Plenary (Part Two) with Natalia Viana
Summary: Natalia, an independent journalists from Brazil, spoke about her experience working with Wikileaks in helping to disseminate the largest leak of US diplomatic cables in history. Her plenary also looked into the larger role of wikileaks and how it not only provides information for journalists, but also acts as a form of journalism itself.
Check out this article about Natalia from Narco News.
Sorry, no tweets. The internet was down during the plenary 😦
Happy Hour Organized by Viral Video Group
Pin the cigarette on Al Giordano!
Egyptian Revolution Panel
Evening Plenary with Noha Atef, Maria Dayton, Namess Arnous, and Joe Rizk
Summary: Noha spoke about her website, TortureinEgypt.net and how it raised the issue of torture and police abuse in Egypt. Maria spoke about the role of the Diaspora in helping the movement. Namees talked about her experience being there, in person, on the ground during the revolution. Joe talked about the counter-revolution that is seeking the prevent some of the goals of the revolution.
Check out this article about the plenary from Narco News.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the plenary (in tweet form):
Thursday, May 19, 2011
There was no morning plenary. We were given time to work on our projects.
Viral Video Workgroups
Maria and I worked on Jack’s plenary, specifically the part about emergent properties of civil resistance.
Evening Plenary with Noah
Summary: Three important elements of photography: composition, lighting, and timing. Composition involved how you frame the various elements and subjects of a photograph. Noah spoke about the rule of three, where if one were to put a 3×3 grid on top of a photo, that the subject should be in one of the four 2×2 corners of that photograph, not in the center. Lighting involved ensuring that your subject is lit in such a way that best captures the natural light that is present. The first two hours in the morning and the last two hours in the evening are considered the best times to take photographs. Timing involved capturing the right moment in the photograph (the smile, the laugh, the action, etc.). Getting the timing right involves being patient and always at the ready. Noah used some of his own photos (many of them from the previous 7 days) to show examples of different composition, lighting, and timing.
It is important for photographer, when documenting an event, to be as invisible as possible. Stay in the shadows.
Noah then showed one of his photo slide shows from Bolivia.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Viral Video Preview
Summary: Everyone gathered at 10:30am to look at a couple of the viral videos that that group had created. We looked at the “Barrel of Laughs” animation that Katie, Kevin, Nathan, Maria, and I put together. This video is based off the Otpor barrel story that Ivan told during his plenary. We also looked at Namees Arnous’ thank you message to Egypt video.
After the videos were screened, the idea was to start implementing the distribution and promotion campaign so that the videos can start going viral. Unfortunately, the internet was not working and we were unable to put the plan into action.
Summary: We were joined by Javier Sicilia – the leader of the nonviolent movement in Mexico against the drug war. He spoke about the origins of the drug war – how US efforts to stop the drug trade moving through the Caribbean and through Miami, invited drug cartels throughout Latin America to start using Mexico as their new route. This in turn greatly increased the number of drug cartels in Mexico. The US demand for drugs has also been fueling the narco trafficking. He spoke about legalizing drugs is a necessary evil in order to eliminate the violence that has erupted as a result of Mexican President, Phillipe Calderon’s war on drugs, which has, over the past four years claimed 40,000 lives. During the question and answer period, one of the participants asked why he gave up writing and poetry after his son was killed. He said that the social movement of which he is a part is a form of poetry in motion.
Check out this article about this event with Javier from Narco News.
After Javier spoke, Al, Greg, and Katie Halper handed out diplomas, saying a little something about each person.