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Applications open for Knight Center course: The Coverage of Drug Trafficking

The application period is closed.

Veteran Colombian journalist Alvaro Sierra thinks many journalists make a crucial mistake when covering drug trafficking. They tend to treat it just as a crime story instead of the intricate international problem that it is. This is one of the main topics of the online course that Sierra will teach from June 20th-July 24th, 2011.

Sierra's five-week course, "The Coverage of Drug Trafficking," will be offered by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas for the fifth time, completely online and in Spanish. Journalists from Latin American and the Caribbean who cover drug related issues can apply online until June 9th at 5pm Central Standard Time (CST).

"It's a complex social, economic (and political) phenomenon and not merely a police or criminal matter," Sierra said. "If we take some distance from the official narrative, there are lots of facets to explore in the coverage."

Sierra, who has extensive experience covering armed conflicts and drug trafficking issues, is currently an editor at Semana magazine in Bogotá, Colombia. A former editorial page editor of Bogotá's El Tiempo newspaper, and a correspondent in Russia (1990-1997) and China (1998-2000), Sierra has recently moved back to Colombia after a few years in Costa Rica, where he taught at the University for Peace, created by the United Nations.

One goal of the course is to help improve coverage of the drug trade so it goes beyond the shootings, beheadings and kidnappings. Another goal is to help journalists protect themselves.

Sierra will also discuss the drug war strategies that have been used by several countries like the United States, Colombia and Mexico.

"In my opinion, the current strategy of the fight against drugs is a failure that (almost) all of the world recognizes and (almost) nobody wants to change....Although this topic implies an evaluation, a value judgment, I think it is important for a course about drugs to broach an evaluation of what has been done in the last 40 years (100 if you take a broader view) to combat them," Sierra said.

Journalists from Mexico previously took this course and their evaluation of it was generally very positive, highlighting the practical effects it had in their coverage of the drug trafficking problem in Mexico.

“The issue of drug trafficking and how it should be addressed in a more global perspective was the most interesting part of the course which means that our job as journalists has been enriched by this new perspective,” wrote a journalist in the course evaluation.

Another noted, “When we don’t know that this is an international phenomenon that generates millions of dollars worldwide, we get mired in counting our dead and our violence every day. But with the assets acquired in this course, it is easy to change the editorial line of these notes.”
There is a $50 administrative fee to cover a small portion of the operating costs for the class. The fee covers course participation and the issuance of a certificate of participation for those that meet the completion requirements for the course.

The Knight Center, which is funded by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Open Society Foundations, has trained over 5,000 students through its online courses.

Thousands of journalists have also benefited from other Knight Center’s activities, such as workshops, webinars and the publication of e-books that can be downloaded for free from the Digital Library. Two of those e-books, "Coverage of Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean," and “Journalism in Times of Threats, Censorship and Violence,” will be used as support material for Sierra’s course.

For detailed information about the course, check the “course information sheet” at http://knightcenter.utexas.edu/course/coverage-drug-trafficking-5th-edition and apply here.