Discover more from CrashOut by Ioan Grillo
A Shout To My Readers and Supporters
You are the bomb. Let's do this.
I scored my first job as a reporter in 2001 in The News, an English language paper with offices in the historic center (“centro histerico”) of Mexico City. For 600 bucks a month, we banged out stories on coffee-stained computers, ate two dollar comida corrida lunches and rode battered public busses to press conferences. I fucking loved it. I got to do real journalism in the most amazing country on the planet at a historic moment. I covered the court martial of generals for drug trafficking, ran after the “Ma Baker gang,” which sold crack out of a wrestling arena, and watched mask protesters chase the federal police out of a whole town. Change was indeed coming to Mexico but it wasn’t as hoped.
It was the beginning of a two-decade ride chasing after crime and drugs from the projects of Baltimore to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. But the beating heart of my reporting has always been in Mexico where I still live. As I got jobs for the Houston Chronicle then the Associated Press, I followed the transformation of drug traffickers into networks of paramilitary organized crime that unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe here. I found myself witnessing attrocities I could not have imagined: forty-nine corpses with their heads, hands and feet chopped off; shoot outs pitting two thousand troops against five hundred sicarios; a trail of grieving mothers and fathers whose pain will make you weep.
The world was interested in the story. I had two front covers in Time Magazine, over fifty op-eds in the New York Times, a trilogy of books, a dozen documentaries, and was proud as fuck to finally get the medallion of recognition in the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University. Meanwhile, the issues of crime and drugs thundered on as relevent and tragic as ever, with record overdose deaths in the United States and the body count from the drug war in Mexico reaching a quarter of a million this century.
I launched this Substack to take my two decades of reporting to the next level. Not only will I keep covering the cartels, cops and corruption on both sides of the Rio Grande and far beyond but I want to push the thinking on this issue. How can we really make sense of the bloodbath in Mexico and its transformation into a hybrid armed conflict? What is really driving the level of overdoses in the United States and how can this be turned around? Is corruption so bad we need to talk of a “Narco State?”
I began writing these stories and essays for free while juggling with my paying gigs, my books, documentaries, speaking. I am thrilled that thousands of you subscribed, including a great range of academics, active and former law enforcement, journalists, recovered drug addicts, people who have come out of prison, families of victims, and many interested readers from all walks of life. While I have hardly said a word, a bunch of you have came forward and have paid money to make this happen. I am hugely touched and appreciative of this support from every one of you.
Journalism is changing. The old model of freelance reporting, of independent journalists running round the planet for stories and writing them for top newspapers and magazines, is severely battered and may soon be broken. A few big outlets still stand but the coverage of important subjects has become much narrower. Public trust in the media has plummeted.
Yet, there are positive developments. Here on Substack, journalists and writers can communicate directly with our readers with no filters and a true diversity of ideas. There are new ways of writing being developed, new ways of thinking about ideas not hemmed in by the top-down media model. It can be truly independent, not wedded to a political party of either stripe, a tech giant or a corporate media outlet. I want to add to this mix and not just with more talk but with real reporting and years of experience from the field. New and better journalism is possible.
I have big plans including:
A series of essays on the fundamentals of the situation in Mexico, about whether this is an armed conflict and how we can understand the cartels.
A deeper dive into the overdose crisis in the United States, including what has happened with harm reduction, and how the cartels really operate north of the border.
A narrative podcast series to understand how the Mexican traffickers transformed and became so violent including testimonies from top figures involved.
The stories I have already published include:
A report on the fentanyl overdose problem crossing into Tijuana before this was published in the Washington Post and other outlets.
The only major analysis in English of a 50 percent drop in murders in Mexico City, a story cited in Mexican media and by the Mexico City mayor.
The first longer analysis on the cartel-style murder in Goshen, California, before the New York Times reported on it.
The only major report on the imprisonment of ayahuasca healers in Mexico, which may have contributed to charges being dropped against them.
I aim to publish a story a week and I want to keep the quality high with each piece well reported and written. I am not coming at this from a simplistic political agenda but I call it as I see it. Hoping this doesn’t sound too pretentious, I see the mission here as truth, knowledge and wisdom. I would love for this space to be point for conversation about these issues so all of your comments are greatly appreciated and if it is possible I would love to bring in guest writers and reporters. I am already in touch with many out there I would love to publish.
So please come along for the ride. Paid subscriptions are obviously the best way to support this work. Right now I would like to keep most of my stories open to all readers, although this may change and I can look for other perks for paid subscribers. Your thoughts and ideas about this are appreciated.
Besides paying subscriptions, there are other ways you can support this newsletter.
Sharing the stories is a big help - any format, any medium, word of mouth, is all good.
Likes and comments are really helpful. Some of you respond in comments directly to me in emails. This is nice too, but it is great if it can be in the comments section here to help build and encourage discussion. (Of course, I know some of you have restrictions like active law enforcement jobs which makes that difficult).
Any suggestions about how to make this better, stories to write, methods to get this across. This is all a new medium and a work in progress.
Lastly, just reading my shit and sending the good vibes is what makes us writers write. You know I love you all.
Copyright Ioan Grillo and CrashOutMedia 2023