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VETERAN JOURNALIST JUDGED TO BE BOARD MATERIAL-Roger Mudd says he won't be 'a fox in a chicken house' as Media General director

The future of newspapers is "bright" but preserving their good health is "mandatory" in the mind of broadcast news veteran Roger Mudd, who has been nominated to join the board of Media General Inc. of Richmond, Va.

"I just don't believe that it would be possible to have a functional democratic society without newspapers. I don't think that television is equipped to provide the service that must be provided by newspapers," says Mudd, who was tapped by the publishing and television company to bring his long tenure in broadcasting as a newsman at CBS, NBC and PBS to the nine-member board.

He and eight incumbent board members will stand for election at the company's annual meeting May 15. Mudd would succeed James Evans, who has been a Media General executive since 1973. Mudd says he looks forward to serving on his first corporate board of directors, which oversees 21 daily newspapers, other publications, 14 television stations, two cable companies and a creator and distributor of business graphics.

His newsroom experience sets him apart from most members of the board, but he acknowledges, "I will not be a fox in a chicken house." Mudd's selection was a natural to the board's chairman, L. Stewart Bryan III, who has known him for 40 years. "I think Roger Mudd is a known commodity in the world of journalism and that's the world we're in," Bryan says.

The state of that world concerns Mudd, who sees a decline in the quality of all news endeavors. "Those of us who worked in broadcasting in the '60s and '70s aimed news at the 11th grade. Now it's the eighth grade," Mudd says. As for print, "I think some newspapers have succumbed to the same lure that has entrapped television, that the news isn't important, that teaching people how to cope is the goal.

"Our role is to inform, not to teach people how to pay their mortgage payments or avoid getting cheated by the local vinyl salesman. That's the basic commodity that we have to deal with. In many instances, we've forgotten that's our mission."

Mudd accepted the mission in 1953, when he was hired as a summer replacement reporter on rewrite at the now-closed Richmond News-Leader. "My time as a newspaperman, while intense and very liberating, was a brief one," he says. He switched to radio in the mid-'50s and migrated to Washington "as a full-time, serious -- I thought I was serious -- broadcaster."

Print, though, has always been a companion. "I lived among and around and between newspapermen and newspaperwomen all my life. I admire their sense of priorities, which is not always true of broadcasting, where sometimes I think their priorities get turned topsy-turvy simply by the intense drive to get a bigger and bigger audience."

That "ferocious competition" has hurt commercial television, Mudd observes. "I was brought up -- and most Americans believe -- that competition is healthy, that it produces a finer product at a lower price and wider distribution, and I don't think that's true in broadcast television," where "a profusion of outlets" has not yielded "an increase in the quality."

Mudd left PBS and "daily news" in 1992, going into semi-retirement with stints as a visiting professor of journalism at Princeton University and Washington & Lee University. He joined cable's History Channel in 1994; now he writes his segments at home in Virginia, then goes to New York to tape them. "I find that I'm almost busier now than I was," with 10 grandchildren also drawing his attention.

Mudd calls himself "a Luddite" when it comes to the Internet. His take on the 'Net? "It has made it much more difficult for democracy to function. Now, public opinion becomes available in massive amounts in five or 10 minutes on the Internet, which makes it much more difficult for government to make policy in any deliberative way. It really becomes the tail that wags the dog." Mudd suggests that any company that goes on-line "has to be careful about the impact of it on the functioning of our society."

Holding a mirror up to society remains Mudd's overriding concern. Journalists, said the familiar voice, should be providing "what you think is important for people to know to make intelligent decisions. That's not only government, that's culture and society and everything that goes with it. The tendency to do fast-food news is, for me, not the wave of the future."

-- P.W.
COPYRIGHT 1998 The Cole Group
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:NewsInc
Date:Apr 13, 1998
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