Thursday, January 5, 2006
HAT’S OFF…No reporter likes to “get beat.” (That’s what a news nerd calls it when a local rival publishes an important story before he gets around to it.) And no reporter likes to “walk in the other guy’s footsteps.” (That’s news-nerd-talk for writing a story after another paper already has done so.) That’s why Squid’s initial reaction, upon seeing the two-part immigration series in the Dec. 20-21 Salinas Californian, was a kind of professional pity (mixed with a self-righteous smugness).
Ultimately, Squid’s opinion changed. OK, the Californian didn’t get there first—the Weekly did. But the daily did a damn fine job of getting the story out anyway, and it’s a story that needs to get out.
The series was, however, a clear case of the Californian walking in the footsteps of Weekly reporter Raul Vasquez. Not only did it follow a three-part immigration series in these pages, published in consecutive issues beginning on Dec. 1, it also approached the story from the exact same angle (which was a fresh approach in the Weekly’s version).
The Californian’s lead story, headlined “Illegals Vital to Economy,” contained information that would have been almost startling if it hadn’t been reported here three weeks earlier.
The Weekly package, headlined “The Real Immigration Crisis: Not Enough Mexicans,” broke down the fact that the ag industry—as well as hospitality—relies very heavily on labor supplied by undocumented workers. This is one of those facts that everyone “knows,” but nobody will admit officially. In the Weekly, Vasquez quotes numerous highly reputable sources admitting what everyone has long suspected is true.
In re-reporting the story, Californian reporter Victor Calderon does a commendable job. Rather than simply call everyone whose name appears in Vasquez’s story, he does his own “legwork,” as we say.
Nevertheless, Vasquez “kicks his ass.” (That’s journalismese for…well, it means the same thing it means in the real world.)
For example: Vasquez quotes Bob Nielsen of Tanimura & Antle insisting that immigration laws must change. And in Vasquez’ story, Tom Nassif, the president of the ag trade group Western Growers, concedes that his group’s members rely on undocumented workers.
Calderon has Nielsen saying “he’s heard estimates that as few as 10 percent of local ag workers are undocumented.” And then he lets Bob Perkins of the Monterey County Farm Bureau go unchallenged with: “There are some people who believe the majority of ag workers here are undocumented. We all have some perceptions about the workers, but we just don’t know.”
In the business, we call that “bullshit.”
In the end, Calderon and the Californian redeem
themselves. Taken on its own, nit-picks aside, the
Californian series is a courageous piece of journalism;
the second piece in the series does a terrific job of
challenging the idea that undocumented workers cost society
money and jobs. Squid hopes this does not come across as a
“backhanded compliment”—Squid has no hands.
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