July 18, 2011

Journalists tackle coverage of drug trafficking in Knight Center course

Is the business of illegal drugs adequately covered by the media?
 Is it possible to report on drug trafficking, despite the threat to journalists? 
These are some of the questions that journalists are tackling in the Knight Center’s online course, “The Coverage of Drug Trafficking.”

The course, which ends July 24, is being taught in Spanish by Álvaro Sierra who has extensive experience covering armed conflicts and drug trafficking issues. This is the fifth time that he has taught the course for the Knight Center.

Thirty journalists representing Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala Germany, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, United States and Venezuela are participating in the course, using the Knight Center’s interactive, multimedia digital platform.

“Interaction has been great. By this I mean that our chats are supposed to be an hour long… and each has gone way over the allotted time,” said course assistant Rachel Barrera. “The fact that they’re going an hour and a half or more is to me a show of enthusiasm for the course and the topic.”

Sierra sees drug trafficking as a “complex social, economic and political problem.” He wants journalists to go beyond the coverage of kidnappings and beheadings and to help them stay safe.

“As with each edition of this course, the topic of drug trafficking is at the forefront of the participants’ daily life and work,” added Barrera. “Participants have many questions and concerns regarding the topic and Álvaro’s experiences make him an excellent instructor for this course.”

Sierra is an editor at Semana magazine in Bogotá, Colombia. He was an editorial page editor of Bogotá’s El Tiempo newspaper and a correspondent in Russia (1990-1997) and China (1998-2000). Recently he moved back to Colombia after teaching at the University for Peace, created by the United Nations.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas was created by Professor Rosental Alves at the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism in August 2002 with a generous donation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Center also receives contributions from other donors, including the Open Society Foundations and The University of Texas at Austin. The Center’s main goal is to help journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean improve the quality of journalism in their countries.