James B. Reston

An Inventory of the James B. Reston Papers at the University of Illinois Archives.

Overview of the Collection

Creator: James B. Reston
Title: James B. Reston Papers
Dates: 1935-95
Abstract: James B. Reston (1909-95) papers include correspondence, publications, manuscripts, memoranda, reports, speeches, interview transcripts, and photographs relating to Reston's career with the Associated Press (1934-39) and with The New York Times (1939-89) as a reporter (1939-89), chief Washington correspondent (1953-64), associate editor (1964-68), executive editor (1968-69), vice president (1969-74), and columnist (1974-89). Reston won the Pulitzer Prize twice, in 1945 and in 1957, and several times served as a juror who helped select Pulitzer Prize recipients. Reston's papers contain information regarding World War II; the development of American journalism in the post-World War II period; the Pulitzer Prizes; the origins and growth of the United Nations; post-World War II U. S. presidential administrations and elections; U. S. Cold War diplomacy and relations with the Soviet Union and China, especially the decision to recognize mainland China in 1971; the Vietnam War, especially press coverage of and student demonstrations against; and the history, administration, design and labor relations of The New York Times. Notable correspondents and interviewees include Dean Acheson, Joseph Alsop, Russell Baker, Chester Bowles, George Bush, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wallace Carroll, Jimmy Carter, Turner Catledge, E. Clifton Daniel, Orville Dryfoos, Max Frankel, Henry Kissinger, Aleksei Kosygin, Anthony Lewis, Miguel de la Madrid, Lester Markel, Francois Mitterand, Jean Monnet, A. M. Rosenthal, Anwar Sadat, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, I. F. Stone, Lewis Strauss, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Pierre Trudeau, George Wallace, and Tom Wicker.
Volume: 48.6 cubic feet.
Record Series Number:26/20/120

Biographical or Historical Notes

James Barrett Reston, along with such writers as Eric Sevareid, Joseph Alsop, and Walter Lippmann, had a tremendous influence on shaping twentieth-century American journalism. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Reston worked in publicity and reporting before taking a job with the Associated Press. In 1937, he went to London to cover news and sports for the A. P. During this assignment, Reston met Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times. Soon after their encounter, Reston began work at the Times's London bureau, and he continued his relationship with the paper until his death more than fifty years later. His specialties included political and international reporting, topics upon which he commented extensively first as a reporter and later as a columnist at the paper's Washington bureau. In addition to his duties as a writer, Reston served as the chief Washington correspondent from 1953 until 1964, and also worked as associated editor (1964-68), executive editor (1968-69), and vice president (1969-74). The best source on Reston's life is his 1991 autobiography, Deadline: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1991). The papers contain extensive manuscript drafts of this book.


November 3, 1909James Barrett Reston born in Clydesbank, Scotland to Johanna Irving and James Reston
1920Moved to Dayton, Ohio
1932Earned B. S. in journalism at University of Illinois
1932-33Reporter at Springfield, Ohio Daily News
1933Worked in publicity department at Ohio State University
1934Publicity director for Cincinnati baseball club
1934-37Associated Press reporter in New York City
1935Married Sarah Jane Fulton
1937-39Associate Press reporter in London
1939-41New York Times reporter, London bureau
1941-89New York Times reporter, Washington bureau
1945Awarded Pulitzer Prize for reporting on Dumbarton Oaks
1953-64Chief Washington correspondent, New York Times
1957Awarded Pulitzer Prize for national reporting
1964-68Associate editor, New York Times
1968-69Executive editor, New York Times
1968-91Co-publisher, Vineyard Gazette, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
1969-74Vice president, New York Times
1974-89Columnist, New York Times
1995Died in Washington, D. C

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Reston finding aid uses a functional arrangement to organize the material. While he was chief of the Washington bureau, Reston started the practice of hiring a year-long intern to act as his assistant; one of the intern's jobs was to maintain Reston's files. There is a list of the names and tenure of these interns following the Collection Overview. While this system of changing assistants worked well for the interns and Reston, it also meant that these files would exhibit a wide variety of strategies for such tasks as arranging research notes, filing correspondence, and drafting memorandums. As a result, the Reston papers had a haphazard arrangement at best, as indicated by the inventory notes taken by Reston intern Amy Wallace during her "Washington project" (see "James B. Reston--Washington project, 1984" in SUBJECT FILE, Box 84).

For most of the collection, the University Archives arranged the files into nine functional categories or sub-series, devised after carefully examining the papers. The Table of Contents shows the breakdown of these categories and sub-categories. Processing allowed the Archives staff to identify several complete file sequences, which were placed within the WORKING FILES sub-series. Since the arrangement of these files does represent an organization created and maintained by Reston and his clerks, the archives has maintained them as separate sequences even when they have overlapping dates or exhibit wide gaps in chronological coverage.

The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL sub-series holds material relating to Reston's life and achievements. The largest group of documents in this category consists of material relating to awards and honorary degrees conferred upon Reston. This sub-series also contains personal correspondence and material related to Reston's decision to retire in 1989.

PUBLICATIONS AND WRITINGS holds material relating to Reston's writing outside of the New York Times. It contains three major divisions. The first covers publications by Reston, both in periodical and book form. The largest amount of material consists of drafts and correspondence regarding Deadline, Reston's 1991 memoir. The second division contains periodical pieces about Reston and his role as a journalist, while the third major division contains publications and articles that he collected within his personal papers.

The University Archives divided Reston's CORRESPONDENCE into three different areas: General Correspondence, Individual Correspondence, and Reader Mail. The Correspondence category contains General Correspondence, which holds letters filed alphabetically within omnibus folders, and Individual Correspondence, which holds folders established for separate correspondents. Most of the correspondents represented in this section worked as Reston's colleagues at the Times, though government officials and other journalists are also represented. The third major area of correspondence contains correspondence from readers. The SUBJECT FILE contains the Reader Mail sub-category, which holds the correspondence from both famous individuals and members of the general public, as well as Reston's typed replies to these readers.

The NEW YORK TIMES category comprises two major areas related to the newspapers. First, the Administrative sub-category holds all the material regarding the paper's internal operations and administrative decisions, including information regarding printers' strikes and the 1971 decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. As chief Washington correspondent, associate editor, executive editor, and then vice president for the Times in the years from 1953 to 1974, Reston's work involved him both in the production and analysis of news and the management of the paper as a business enterprise. Reston Clerks, the second sub-category, covers Reston's contribution to the newspaper's staffing practices. It includes applications for clerkships and correspondence with interns both during and after their tenure with Reston.

The SUBJECT FILES cover 57 boxes and represents the largest single category of the papers. It contains the working and permanent files that Reston and his clerks created and maintained, often for research purposes, on important political and journalistic leaders, crucial events, and influential organizations. In addition, these files contain a number of sub-categories. There is an extensive file of research and interview notes and information concerning James and Sally Reston's 1971 trip to China, including his hospital stay and interview of Chou En-Lai. Columns and Column Clippings contain Reston's working drafts and notes on his journalism pieces, as well as an extensive collection of his pieces from the Times, clipped and saved by successive clerks.

The Foundations, Organizations, and Institutions sub-category contains files on the variety of organizations and institutions with which Reston became involved. Several of the more important were the Jean Monnet Foundation, dedicated to realizing the Frenchman's dream of a unified Europe; the World Book, to which Reston contributed an article on U. S. politics for its annual yearbook; and the Pulitzer Prize committee, upon which Reston served several times during his career.

Interview Notes and Transcripts contains the unedited typescripts of conversations that Reston held with important political and social leaders, both in the U. S. and abroad. These included Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, and Yugoslav President Tito. While the transcripts contain little information that cannot be found in published accounts, they provide a window into Reston's practices as a reporter and interviewer.

The archives has divided the Reader Mail into two distinct groups. The first contains files relating to specific columns that Reston wrote. In particular, one 1971 column on Vice President Spiro Agnew generated so many responses that Reston drafted three different form letters to send to his readers. The General Reader Mail contains large groups of letters filed chronologically, often with a copy of Reston's reply attached.

Reston's enormous popularity and success as a journalist made him a sought-after public speaker. Speeches and Travel holds the documents and speech drafts that Reston wrote and delivered in his years as a public speaker. This group also contains material relating to Reston's trips abroad, both for journalistic reasons and for personal relaxation. Television and Radio Appearances contains material related to Reston's talks, interviews, and relations with the broadcast media.

The WORKING FILES category is the second-largest group of documents in the papers. This group holds those file sequences established by Reston interns that the Archives could recreate. Though some sequences clearly overlap, and all the sequences contain material from the other functional categories, the Archives has maintained them here as Reston and his clerks established them. Their contents are predominantly source material for research purposes, though they also hold correspondence, reports, interview transcripts, speechs, and memoranda. They are arranged alphabetically within broad, and often overlapping, chronological sequences.

The VINEYARD GAZETTE files relate to Reston's friendship with Henry Beetle Hough of Edgartown, Massachusetts (Martha's Vineyard) and Reston's assumption of ownership and direction of the newspaper from Hough.

PHOTOGRAPHS include 35mm snapshots taken by James and Sally Reston during trips as well as professional shots taken by New York Times and other newspaper photographers documenting places visited and major career events, his public appearances, awards, and honorary degrees.

AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS include audiotape recordings of interviews conducted by Reston, telephone calls with governmental officials, government news events, and a visit with Reston's mother containing family recollections.

A final two boxes in the collection contains OVERSIZED MATERIAL from throughout the categories. Among these papers are copies of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals, the publication of which earned Reston his first Pulitzer Prize, as well as material on the foundation of the United Nations.

Reston's Clerks

1961-62Jonathan Yardley
1962-63Christopher Willoughby
1963Donald E. Graham
1964-65Steven V. Roberts
1965-66Craig R. Whitney
1966-67Iver Peterson
1967David K. Shipler
1967-68James P. Sterba
1968-69Linda Greenhouse
1969-70Rick Edmonds
1973-74William Hamilton
1974-75Steven Rattner
1975-76David W. Dunlap
1976-77Matthew L. Wald
1977-78John Hough, Jr.
1978-79James Brooke
1980-81Nis Kildegaard
1981-82Philip Shenon
1982-83Sam Howe Verhovek
1983-84Eric Schmitt
1984-85Amy Wallace
1985-86James Newton
1986-88Hilary Stout
1988-89Jack Steinberg
1989-90Richard Coe
1991Stewart Yerten


By functional group and sub-group

Index Terms

The subject headings used by the University of Illinois Archives were developed by University of Illinois Archivist Maynard Brichford and University Archivist Bill Maher. They are specific to this institution.

Detailed Description/Box and Folder Listing




THE NEW YORK TIMES . Box 36 - 39

SUBJECT FILES . Box 40 - 96

WORKING FILES . Box 96 - 126

VINEYARD GAZETTE . Box 134 - 136

PHOTOGRAPHS . Box 137 - 138

AUDIOTAPES, 1940-1991. Box 139 - 140