Journalists covering the Senate have a new home online, as well as an updated account of the Fourth Estate’s scandalous history in the chamber.
The Senate Daily Press Gallery’s revamped, mobile-friendly website features useful information for reporters, press secretaries and communications directors, plus a colorful documentation of some of the institution’s most famous correspondents, such as former congressional scribe and famed author Mark Twain.
Twain was a double-dipper, covering the Senate as a newspaper reporter while drawing a Senate salary as secretary to a Republican senator from Nevada, according to the 2,000-word chronicle. Other correspondents, meanwhile, moonlighted as lobbyists.
“The Senate is a historic place to work, but the gallery itself has its own really intriguing history,” said John Mulligan, a media director for the gallery, who helped write the story. Mulligan, who covered Washington as a reporter for more than 38 years before joining the gallery staff, has always found the evolution of the press corps fascinating. “For decades in the middle of the gallery’s life it was perfectly natural for people to report to a senator and draw the public paycheck, and go upstairs and report from the gallery on the very same body,” he said. “The conflicts of interest were pretty rife in those days.”
Gallery staff consulted Senate Historian Donald A. Ritchie, author of two books on the history of Washington correspondents, for more context and insight on the way new technologies and social change have shaped journalism.
“For my job in the Senate, I get called every day by reporters,” Ritchie said. “Over time, I sort of got interested in how reporters covered the Senate, what choices they decided to make, how accurate their reports were, what kind of working conditions they were operating under. So, as a historian, I went back to look at the origins of the press corps and how they’ve filtered the news to the public over time.”
He’s written about the rise of wire services and the fight against racial and sexual discrimination as the press corps transitioned from “white men working for newspapers” to an integrated news industry. That history is covered on the site, alongside art provided by Photo Historian Heather Moore.
Ritchie said the galleries have a “peculiar history” and it is worthwhile for reporters working there on a regular basis to understand the background. He points out that the Standing Committee of Correspondents, a panel of journalists responsible for policing the galleries, is one uniquely American element of the congressional press corps.
Congress is the “only national legislature” that allows journalists to decide who is a journalist, rather than having the government hand out press passes, Ritchie said.
Instructions for applying for press credentials and rules established by the standing committee are also published on the gallery’s site. Gallery staff have compiled alphabetical lists of the more than 1,500 correspondents who hold the press credential that grants access to the gallery and the rest of the Capitol complex.
The home page includes a daily log of the Senate’s schedule with information on bills up for consideration and expected votes. Additionally, it features a calendar for the chamber and links to past votes, upcoming hearings and press conferences scheduled through the congressional radio-TV galleries.
Mulligan said most of the features were already available on the old site, but the facelift was necessary to make it “streamlined and less redundant.” He credits staff of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms’ Office for helping with the technological changes.