Campus correspondents
By Don Muhm, 1952

A substantial number of us college students a half-century ago looked for part-time jobs to help pay our way through school. Fortunately for us, some important campus correspondent positions were open to us interested and involved in the journalism field at what then was Iowa State College.

For those lucky enough to be hired as campus correspondents, those small monthly checks we received were cashed about as fast as they arrived. It was a time when some of us had to work and help pay our way or not be in school at all. The easy-to-get student loans of today didn’t exist back then. For many of us, the situation was simply that we weren’t sure just where the next quarter’s tuition was coming from, even though back then it was something like a mere $56 a quarter, as I recall.

Fortunately, several campus reporting possibilities were available during the years I was in college. One of my journalism buddies was the Associated Press’ campus correspondent—then regarded by us students as one of the premier positions available for the student boasting the right credentials. Two other national wire news service positions were available, as well, with United Press and International News Service, which also hired campus reporters.

In fact, some of us would often help each other out when news broke. One of my friends actually boasted how, one day, he filed news stories for all three of the national news wires. That was the day when ex-Army cadets/athletes booted out of West Point for cheating surprisingly showed up at the Iowa State football team workouts.

Back then, we were expected to cover and file daily scrimmage-type stories. That was difficult back then, but realistically, it would be as difficult today, all things considered about Cyclone football. But the appearance of an ex-Army athlete on any college campus was big preseason news no matter where they showed up, including Ames, Iowa. My report made the front page of The Des Moines Register sports section, too.

In my case, I was fortunate to be the campus correspondent for The Des Moines Register and its sister publication, the Des Moines Tribune, then. The Tribune merged with the morning paper in September 1982. These newspapers were regarded as the premier newspapers in the state of Iowa back in fall 1950, when I first got the job as the campus news correspondent for the Des Moines newspapers. (And 10 years later I would join the staff of those two newspapers and eventually would complete my newspaper career there, spending my last 33 years in Des Moines.)

Like others, I also had an editorial position at the Iowa State Daily, something that helped me focus in on the news of the day, of course, but that also included a small salary. My boss in Des Moines, Leighton Housh, kept me informed, though, that I worked for him—not for Iowa State College.

My pay? Well, it doesn’t sound like much now. But the normal correspondent rate was something like 15 cents a column inch. However, you got 25 cents for the lead paragraph. That news correspondent experience, I jokingly said years later, was the period when I learned the art of writing long and padding out a story so it was difficult for the copy editor to trim or shorten.

Before you laugh at that meager rate of pay, let me tell you that in one month, February 1952, I earned $109! Now, that’s producing a lot of copy at 15 cents an inch. But it was the busy season for athletics, which was my primary job for the Des Moines newspapers. And so I gained a reputation for turning out and stretching a story a tad—all in the interest of a bigger check. Of course there was something else: the satisfaction of seeing your copy in print the next day.

And some of my peers, to this day, still think I have a tendency to embellish or enhance a piece a tad or two beyond its actual news value. I cannot argue that contention at all even today.

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