I set Donkey Show in an El Paso newsroom a few years after this scene. The computers you see are really just “dumb” terminals attached to a single server. I’m the only one who appears to be working. Back then I was still taking notes by hand.
One of the key motivations for the journalists in Donkey Show was to climb up the ladder–from El Paso to a larger publication in a bigger city, whether Dallas or L.A. That was the way many of us saw journalism back then. It was a climb. Success led to the national publications, and the biggest winners appeared on the Sunday morning TV shows, like Meet the Press. Or they were correspondents in Paris, Tokyo or Moscow.
Within months of this photo, Alfredo Corchado (front left) was working for the Wall Street Journal in Philadelphia. I was hired by BusinessWeek for the Mexico City bureau. Thaddeus Herrick (back left), who had worked with me at a paper in Venezuela, eventually got to the Wall Street Journal, and Charlie Ellis (back right) moved to a paper in Syracuse, where he and his wife were closer to their families.
For a climb up the journalism ladder it was crucial to have clips. These pieces of paper were the currency of the realm. I had mine pasted in a scrapbook, which I carried to job interviews. (Can you imagine such a thing today?) The most valuable clips were articles from big papers and magazines, though prize-winning articles from lesser known publications were also useful.
My goal in my 20s was to become a foreign correspondent, either with a big paper or a wire service. I remember going to the Philadelphia Inquirer for a job interview. (The Inquirer only had a handful of foreign correspondents, but it was in the same chain as the Miami Herald, which had a bunch in Latin America.) The editor steered me toward a lower rung. “Go to Iowa or someplace,” he told me. Instead I went to freelance in Argentina and Brazil, and ended up at The Daily Journal in Caracas.
The amazing thing about those times, looking back, was that it was impossible to publish anything without selling it, in some fashion, to an editor. No blogs, no social networks, not even email. This desire to get published, to begin the climb, and the frustration of being locked out, is what stirs much of the action in Donkey Show.