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
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
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
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
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.