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The last days of the Narco News Bulletin

For the past three and a half years, Al Giordano has been watching the so-called war on drugs from Latin America. The well-connected drug lords, the shadowy involvement of US government officials, and the ever-present stench of murder and hypocrisy have all been fodder for the Narco News Bulletin (www.narconews.com), the online publication he started "somewhere in a country called América."

As of this Saturday, though, Narco News will cease publication, possibly forever. Last Friday, Giordano — a former Phoenix colleague of mine — posted a statement saying that a lack of funds and his inability to guarantee the safety of the "authentic journalists" who work with him (a friend and associate of Giordano’s, the democratic activist Carlos Sánchez López, was assassinated in Mexico two months ago) have led him to conclude that the time has come to move on.

"It’s been quite a ride," Giordano wrote. "In these 1,275 days that shook América, we’ve witnessed, reported, translated, and participated in the growth of a visible drug legalization movement in Latin America where there previously was none. We’ve blown the whistle on attempted coups d’état in Venezuela. We’ve walked side by side with, and reported from the fronts of, the growing social and indigenous movements that, from Argentina, to Bolivia, to Brazil, to Ecuador, to México, to Perú, to Venezuela, and elsewhere, have reawakened Simón Bolívar’s dream of a Latin America united against impositions from above."

Giordano says the Narco News Web site — and its deep archives — will remain up, even after the new material stops flowing.

In the United States, the trilingual Web site (English, Spanish, and Portuguese) is perhaps best known for having a libel suit against it thrown out — a landmark decision that, at least in the state of New York, gives independent Internet journalists such as Giordano the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by major media organizations (see "Media," This Just In, December 14, 2001, and "Don’t Quote Me," News and Features, April 12, 2001).

Giordano and Narco News had been sued by the head of Banamex, a large Mexican bank, who charged that Giordano and the publisher of a Mexican newspaper, ˇPor Esto!, had libeled him by claiming he was involved in drug trafficking. New York Supreme Court justice Paula Omansky rejected the suit, ruling that Narco News "is a media defendant and is entitled to heightened protection under the First Amendment."

By placing Narco News and the New York Times on the same legal playing field, Giordano won an important victory for a new generation of journalists, including bloggers.

In shutting down Narco News, Giordano may be a victim of his own success. At first, his was very much a one-person operation. A man of few material needs, he appeared to live off the land with little concern for things such as money and shelter. Later, though, he brought in like-minded people to help with the site, and even started something called the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism to give young people some experience with his approach to independent media activism.

In his message of last Friday, Giordano said he would not respond to media requests for comment, preferring to have his say on the weblog that he started several months ago, Big, Left, Outside (www.bigleftoutside.com). I tried anyway, and true to his word, he invited my questions, but said he would answer them on his blog. So have a look.

A project such as Narco News could not be expected to last forever. It will be interesting to see what Giordano comes up with next.

Issue Date: October 17 - 23, 2003
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