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Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012

Stephen Hess

Publication Year: 2012

Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978–2012, is the first book to comprehensively examine career patterns in American journalism.

In 1978 Brookings Senior Fellow Stephen Hess surveyed 450 journalists who were covering national government for U.S. commercial news organizations. His study became the award-winning The Washington Reporters (Brookings, 1981), the first volume in his Newswork series. Now, a generation later, Hess and his team from Brookings and the George Washington University have tracked down 90 percent of the original group, interviewing 283, some as far afield as France, England, Italy, and Australia.

What happened to the reporters within their organizations? Did they change jobs? Move from reporter to editor or producer? Jump from one type of medium to another —from print to TV? Did they remain in Washington or go somewhere else? Which ones left journalism? Why? Where did they go?

A few of them have become quite famous, including television correspondents Ted Koppel, Sam Donaldson, Brit Hume, Carole Simpson, Judy Woodruff, and Marvin Kalb; some have become editors or publishers of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, or Baltimore Sun; some have had substantial careers outside of journalism. Most, however, did not become household names.

The book is designed as a series of self-contained essays, each concentrating on one characteristic, such as age, gender, or place of employment, including newspapers, television networks, wire services, and niche publications. The reporters speak for themselves. When all of these lively portraits are analyzed —one by one —the results are surprisingly different from what journalists and sociologists in 1978 had predicted.

Praise for other books in the Newswork series:

International News and Foreign Correspondents

"It is not much in vogue to speak of things like the public trust, but thankfully Stephen Hess is old fashioned. He reminds us in this valuable and provocative book that journalism is a public trust, providing the basic information on which citizens in a democracy vote, or tune out." —Ken Auletta, The New Yorker

"Regardless of one's view of American news media, one cannot help but be influenced by the information Stephen Hess puts forth in International News and Foreign Correspondents. After reading this book, it is not likely one will scan the newspaper or watch television news in the same way again." — International Affairs Review

"Readers of all backgrounds will find this a provocative text." — The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics

Live from Capitol Hill

"Hess is a treasure —a Washington insider with a sharp sense of the important, the interesting, and the mythological. This book is essential reading for Hill practitioners, journalists, and scholars of Congress and the media." —Steven S. Smith, Washington University

The Washington Reporters "A meticulously researched piece of anthropology that represents the first major look at the men and women who cover the government since Leo C. Rosten's classic 1937 book." — Newsweek

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Front Cover

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Front Flap

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Title Page

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Copyright Information

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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Newswork: How I Got There

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pp. ix-xvi

Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978–2012 is the seventh and final book in a series entitled “Newswork,” which began when the Brookings Institution Press published The Washington Reporters in 1981. To have spent more than three decades on this project...

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pp. xvii-xviii

Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978–2012 has been a collective effort involving my research assistants, teaching assistants, students, and interns. Trying to track down 450 journalists who lived in Washington 30 or more years ago can be a tedious and...

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What Will Follow

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pp. xix-xxiii

In 1978 I surveyed 450 journalists who were in Washington to cover national government for American commercial news organizations: half completed an elaborate sixteen-page questionnaire; half were interviewed by telephone. The findings identified the press corps by sex, race,...

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1. "The Greatest Generation"

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pp. 1-13

World War II ended in 1945. Rarely did these Washington reporters bring their military experiences into our interviews. All Bernard Kalb wanted to tell us about having worked on an Army newspaper published from a Quonset hut in the Aleutian Islands was that his editor...

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2. "The Boomers"

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pp. 14-29

Unlike their elders, the baby boomers in the Washington press corps were not shaped by the experience of going to war. Only two talked of having served in the military, one of whom was Tom Fiedler, a future executive editor of the Miami Herald, who got his undergraduate...

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3. The Women

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pp. 30-43

Charlotte Moulton was 65 years of age in 1978, the oldest woman in our survey. She grew up in Dorchester, a Boston suburb, graduated from the School of Secretarial Studies at Simmons College, and came to Washington in 1940 to work as a secretary at the War Department earning $1,400 a year. A year later...

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4. Diversity

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pp. 44-54

Between his junior and senior year at Harvard, Hal Logan interned at the Washington Post, and he was offered a full-time job upon graduation: “That was in 1973, and I remained in the newsroom until 1978. I had a wonderful time in the newsroom, and I was very happy having the ability to shape a story. But what I decided after four...

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5. The New York Times

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pp. 55-70

The most compelling part of the history of the New York Times in the second half of the twentieth century—according to Timesmen in Washington—was the fierce struggle between the bureau in Washington and headquarters in New York.1 By rights, control belongs to who pays the bills. But in 1932 owner Adolph S. Ochs was in deep need...

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6. The Networks

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pp. 71-83

As 1978 came to a close, the three prime television news programs were in a near tie. Of all TV viewers, 27 percent tuned to the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite; 25 percent, to the NBC Nightly News; and 24 percent, to ABC’s World News Tonight. The Edward R. Murrow era at CBS had ended in 1961, when Murrow left to join...

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7. In the Right or Wrong Place

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pp. 84-94

Life was going to be very different if your employer in 1978 happened to be the Washington Star rather than the Washington Post, United Press International rather than the Associated Press. While it is possible to be in the right place at the right time, it is also possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time....

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8. In the Niche

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pp. 95-107

Niche journalism in Washington has been around at least since the federal income tax was enacted in 1913. But it owes its exponential growth to President Johnson’s Great Society in the mid-1960s, when the eruption of new laws and regulations created markets for information that was not published in a form that could be easily...

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9. The Gridiron Club

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pp. 108-123

The sole purpose of the Gridiron Club, composed of current and former Washington journalists, is to throw a party.1 Male guests at this annual spring affair are instructed to wear white tie and tails. Women are resplendently gowned. All are seated at a giant gridiron-shaped table, the evening’s speakers at one end, the stage and orchestra at the other...

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10. Whatever Happened to the Washington Reports?

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pp. 124-141

“What is the job [in journalism] that you would best like to have someday?” Asked of the Washington reporters interviewed by phone in 1978, the question offered them a brief and unexpected opportunity to look into their own future and dream grandly—it was merely talk and could do no harm. Yet the collective results are surprising, even...

Appendix. The Reporters of 1978

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pp. 143-189


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pp. 191-206


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pp. 207-216

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815723882
E-ISBN-10: 0815723881
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815723868
Print-ISBN-10: 0815723865

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2012