This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
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.
The list of twenty-one papers correspondents mentioned is a short one in view of the fact that more than 1,750 dailies are published in the United States. Since the nine leaders are all published in the eastern section of the country and almost all of them are morning papers, it can be argued that geography and time are important factors. This is certainly true. It is also true that many other metropolitan newspapers are flown to Washington and are available only a few hours after publication.
Another dimension of the elite character of some newspapers is shown in the answers to the second question: Which are the three fairest and most reliable newspapers? Again The New York Times was dominant, but more significant are the shifts of position in the responses to the two questions, with the Washington Star, the Baltimore Sun, the Christian Science Monitor, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch all moving up.