What do you do after you’ve spent half your life as a national radio and TV reporter and the other half teaching journalism at USC. Do you move to Norwood, CO?
Judy Muller did just that. She had visited her brother, John Mansfield, in Norwood, for many years and purchased 80 acres for the perfect retirement. “My grandchildren, 9 and 12, say it’s their favorite place,” she said.
There’s a bit of clash in Norwood between old timers and newcomers, Muller observed, but there are artistic people moving in.
Her house is designed to her specifications and she says she feels at home when she’s there. She’s not going to do the full-on Norwood winter, but plans several months on the beach each year in southern California. She is also working on a project with Alan Alda, as well as other journalism related trips.
The Early News Years
Muller started out writing for a local paper in New Jersey and she says “she just fell in love with it.” She had majored in theater in college so she chose to combine the news writing with voice and went into radio. She worked in Denver at KHOW for three years. “Then I got divorced so I had to get a better job. This was 1980. I applied to an all news station in New York. They didn’t have anything but sent my tape over to CBS Radio. And they called me back. I wound up broadcasting nationwide. Charles Osgood took me under his wing, mentoring me and gave me my own commentary in the morning.”
She was discriminated against as a woman. Very few women were on prime time air on the radio back then. “It was me and two others. We were the first women on prime time radio.” She even had a women friend who said to her, ‘I never believe the news when it’s told to me by a woman,’ That was the culturization.
She was in the newsroom one day, typing away, and in walked Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes. and “He walks over to me desk and says, “You’re the woman with the balls in her voice. (It was supposed to be a compliment.) “You sound like a guy. So we like you.”
You had to have a thick skin to work in a newsroom at that time.
“When I was teaching there were a lot of young women who had higher voices and higher ranges. I told them now you’re allowed to sound like a women. It’s a great time.”
She had to pick her battles. Equal pay was one of the biggest. “What really got me,” she said, “was when I found out from sources, like the secretaries, that the guys doing the same job as me were making more money that I did. One news director actually said to me, he makes more than you because he’s got a family and you have a husband. I told him I was coming back with a lawyer and we’ll see about that.” And they adjusted the discrepancy.
She is wired to Washington, DC, through her own contacts and those of her many friends. Not surprisingly, Muller has some strong opinions about the current state of TV network news. She gives high marks to CBS News, not so to ABC.
“I never watch David Muir. I call it a verb free zone. Everything is a gerund, ending in “ing”—Storm Happening, People Leaving, and so on.
She is media wired. “I wake up and read the online New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times in about a half an hour and then look at Twitter and see what’s trending.
She still has many friends in journalism and politics so they’ve got good information that comes out of Twitter. “So by the time I watch CBS News at 9, I know the news.”
In 2003 she worked out a part-time contract with ABC so she could teach at USC (two classes a day). She’s excited about a project she’s doing with six hand-picked students from USC. “They will be embedded in Montecello, Utah, with a man named Bill Boyle, who runs the San Juan Record, a small town newspaper.” They are partnering with the British newspaper, the Guardian, because they are doing a whole rural reporting project.
“They’ll be embedded for two weeks in a community that’s almost 100% white, and conservative. These students have rarely reported outside their own bubble of urban and diverse communities.
She has written two books based on her experiences in journalism. Her first was called “Now This:Radio and Television and the Real World.” The second, “Emus Loose in Egnar” is about small town newspapers.
At USC Muller taught a class called News Literacy. “We’ve got to make people more literate about the information they’re getting and how to judge what’s credible and what counts. When part of the population, starting with the president, is making up their own information, it’s a really dangerous way to run a democracy.
She taught how to identify fake news, not something you disagree with, but that which is designed to deceive.
She gave this tool to her students:
The SMELL Test
What’s the Source
What’s the Motivation
What’s the Evidence
Is it Logical
What’s Left out
“I’m really a missionary about this,” she said. “We must teach people down to the first grade how to interpret information.”
About the women working in news these days:
“I was on the judging panel,” she said, “for the Walter Cronkite awards last year and we gave an award to Katy Tur, who is really smart on her feet. She was on the campaign with Trump and he would say “get Katy” to bully her. She had to get security to get her out of there. The way she responded just made me so proud to be a woman and a journalist.
“Jane Pauley” she continued, “has made a comeback taking over Charlie Osgood’s show on CBS Sunday morning. I think she’s a wonderful interviewer, but she’s not been taken seriously.”
What do you think of the future of the planet, I asked?
“What do I think?! Three big hurricanes and an earthquake in two weeks, fires in the west. Believe it or not I’m an optimist. I think people will listen to the better angels of their nature if you give them a chance—witness what you saw in Houston and Florida with people helping each other.
“I went up to Wyoming with a friend,” she continued, “and we lay down in a farmer’s field and for two and a half minutes we were surrounded by people from the Midwest and Wyoming. We probably would have disagreed on a number of subjects. But we’re all looking up in wonder and for two and a half minutes this country was riveted on this wonderful thing. To me at that moment, I thought, there may be hope here.”