This is certainly possible. It seems likely, however, that even the subtlest of these effects can be detected, especially by the correspondents today. For one of the most striking aspects of the Washington press corps is the level of formal education that most of the correspondents have reached. The Washington correspondent today was probably sitting in a sociology class not many years ago, and he may even have written a scholarly paper on social controls.
The rising level of education for all Americans leads one to expect that the Washington correspondents today would indeed have more formal education than those of the 1930’s. But the difference is greater than the changing times indicate. Even in this Age of Education, only one person in three of college age actually undertakes higher learning, and nearly half of those who enroll in College never earn a degree. Today, slightly more than 81 percent of the Washington correspondents have college degrees (51 percent in the 1930’s). More than 93 percent have attended college (79 percent in the 19303). More than 31 percent have done graduate work (12 percent in the 1930’s), and nearly 20 percent have earned graduate degrees (6 percent in the 1930’s).
The sociological composition of the Washington press corps has changed in other respects since the 1930’s, in ways that alter the folklore of American journalism. Folklore held that leading reporters usually come from the Midwest—especially from Indiana—and Rosten’s findings supported it. Indiana, with more than 10 percent of the correspondents of the 1930’s, and Illinois, with more than 9 percent, were the leading states of birth; the Midwest as a whole contributed more than 45 percent. Today, Indiana and Illinois are far down the list and the whole Midwest contributes only 30 percent of the correspondents. New York and Pennsylvania are now the leading states, and the Northeast is the leading region.
Another stereotype in the folklore of journalism, the impecunious reporter, also fails to hold up in Washington. It is perfectly true that Washington is a high-cost city, that few correspondents are likely to compile fortunes, and that many of them can complain justifiably that the man at the top of his profession should make more money. Nevertheless, by journalistic standards the Washington press corps is an affluent society. Only 2.6 percent of the Washington correspondents are paid less than $6,000 a year. More than 9 percent are paid more than $20,000. The median salary for all correspondents is $11,579, or $4,500 better than the national average for reporters, as determined in a 1960 study by the Associated Press Managing Editors, and more than double the median family income in the United States.
The radio-television correspondents are the best paid. Their median salary is $15,799, followed by the magazine correspondents ($13,299), the newspaper correspondents ($11,319), and the wire-service correspondents ($10,139).
Inflation makes highly suspect an exact comparison of the salaries today with those of the 1930’s. The fact that the salaries now are more than double those of the 1930’s is not altogether meaningful. In current dollars, the $5,400 median salary of 1937 would equal $11,055 today, or only slightly less than the current median.
Only in recent years have social researchers begun to define elite groups in American society. Rosten did not try to define an elite among the correspondents of the 1930’s. He did, however, recognize the significance of the newspapers that the correspondents themselves read regularly and considered fairest and most reliable. Rosten also questioned the correspondents about the magazines they read regularly and the newspaper columnists they considered the fairest and most reliable.
On the theory that it might now be possible to define an elite within the corps of correspondents, I tried to determine which individuals, publications, and radio and television programs were most used and respected by the correspondents.
The first question ran: Which three newspapers (other than your own) do you rely upon most often in your work? lt is obvious that the Washington correspondents, like most people, will read the newspapers that are available in the cities where they live and work. This is especially true of Washington. The answers (see the table) show that correspondents read and rely heavily on two of the three local dailies, the Post and the Star.
The most striking aspect of this section of the study, however, is the continuing dominance of The New York Times. A total of 225 of the 273 correspondents listed it. The most obvious explanation of the reliance upon the Times is the attention that in gives to national and international affairs. Not only does Washington news dominate many of the pages of the Times, but the paper maintains a Washington bureau that is by far the largest of any single newspaper.