Young reporter in Steinbeck-land

07/21/2010 11:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dominick Bonny College grad, journalist, former editor-in-chief at Washington State's student paper.

We are looking for an energetic team player to cover city council meetings, high school basketball and local fairground events. Must be willing to fetch senior editors coffee (or tea, if they prefer). Pay: $20,000 a year. We've got a hundred young reporters applying for this pittance so make your cover letter interesting and dazzle us. Send in a pint of your blood to show your commitment to our award-winning team.

Amazing opportunity overseas reporting for a premiere European news website! Must have at least five years of experience, a masters degree (Ph.D's preferred), computer programming a must and civil engineering skills looked on with favor. Washboard abs required.

In the hopes of finding the perfect young reporter to replace the four veterans we laid off last week, qualified finalists will enjoin in pirate-style knife fights to see who will get the job. This will both thin out the ranks of applicants and amuse our board of directors. Also, must be able to take better pictures with a point and click than the photo desk we just bought out. Bring your own camera.

I exaggerate of course. But after poring over journalism job listings while searching for employment in the weeks (er, months) since graduation, one begins to observe a frustratingly cavalier attitude toward the media's fresh fish - entry-level reporters.

It almost makes one want to retreat back into the womb of higher education and spin the roulette wheel of academics one more time in the hopes of coming up with some semi-marketable skill. And the prospect of a graduate program - a curriculum gloriously free of courses on rocks and star gazing and other off-topic obstacles - is an enticing idea. But alas, like gambling, you must pay to play.

So out into a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent we young comm and journalism and English majors pour, armed with bachelor degrees that seem as flimsy as a wooden shield against a katana. Yesterday I listened to President Obama on the radio. He said there are five people for every one job in the U.S.

I laughed and said to no one, "Five? More like 45 in journalism."

But things are getting better and they could be a lot worse at this point. Living in an agricultural area in Washington state, where the economy is based primarily on cherries and apples and grapes means that even though the local paper contains more coupons than stories there is always work in the fields.

Yet the culture shock inherent in an exodus from the politically correct, AP styled-governed college newsroom to a return to manual labor is massive.

The main catalyst of this shock is the palatable racial tension simmering below the surface of nearly every conversation in central Washington state. Race and the difference between "us" and "them" is a daily part of life here. My hometown is made up of roughly 85 percent South American immigrants, mostly Mexican people who have come to work on the farms, fields, orchards and vineyards. The other 15 percent is white. They own those farms, fields, orchards and vineyards.

Steinbeck, eat your heart out.

There is a saying: "Behind every great man is a great woman."

But in the Washington state's Yakima valley it is more apt to say: "Behind every white guy who wants a ditch dug there are three Mexican guys with shovels."

The fact (and a stark reality everyone around here is aware of) is that the only reason first and second generation Mexican immigrants don't own their own farms and land is the issue of capital. It takes money to start a business - to buy land.

When farmer's son wants to branch out on his own, get a little piece of land for himself and start a farm he gets help from dad, dad's collateral and dad's banker.

There are no such resources available for dad's farm foreman. And nine times out of 10 the farm foreman is a capable, bilingual Mexican guy who manages the workers and the day to day operation. For him, the air conditioned cab of a Ford pickup is about the highest level of comfort he could hope to achieve. A far sight better than breaking your back under the hot sun but still not as good as where the owner sits - on a stool in the office with binoculars, watching everyone to make sure they're working.

Unjust - but reality.

Not an observation that fits into the over-fed, liberal, mentally uncomplicated sterile idea of how the world works off of the average college campus and not the tea-party, bootstrap pulling fantasy-land of an American dreamworld that red states seem to live in. It's just reality - not with impotent ideology but with action.

Yet as we wait for justice I sit between the two castes. A young reporter. Observing.

There's too much to write down and no one is paying me to write it but it seems a shame to ignore.