Muller Visits the Telluride Rotary for Lunch
TELLURIDE – Award-winning journalist Judy Muller visited the Telluride Rotary meeting at the New Sheridan Hotel last week, to discuss her views about the importance of community journalism in the internet age. Muller, who owns a home in Norwood, promoted her book, Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns, sharing stories about local reporting in San Miguel County and across the country.
Muller gained national attention as a journalist covering the 1992 Rodney King trial and ensuing riots, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the O.J. Simpson trials, among other stories. Muller received an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, an Emmy and a Peabody award for journalistic excellence. Throughout her career, Muller has worked for news outlets including ABC, CBS and NPR. She still works as a national correspondent for ABC News, and teaches journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.
Muller, who began her career as an anchor and reporter at WHWH-WPST in Princeton, N.J. and KHOW-AM in Denver, emphasized the importance of community reporting to a functioning society, referring to it as a “lynchpin of democracy.”
She started the discussion by expressing her dislike of negative prophecies about the future of journalism. “I just get so mad when I hear people drone on about how the industry is dying. The industry is not dying: this is, I believe, the Golden Age of journalism and there has never been such a great time to be a reporter,” Muller said. She added that while the industry is going through substantial transitions, people are reading more news than ever – and local reporting, she said, most especially.
“Many people around the country would have no idea what their town councils are doing without someone reporting on it. Local reporting is essential to exposing bad public figures and wasteful spending,” Muller said. She recalled working in Princeton and covering a story about a proposed adult bookstore, a controversial proposal in the small community. When Muller began investigating the story, she exposed corruption between elected officials and the owners of the envisioned bookstore.
“Corrupt officials in New Jersey are everywhere,” Muller said, but it was the “almost instant exposure that only reporting can provide” that was needed to address the issue.
“Nowadays, I’m airlifted into stories that have already been happening,” she said, and “it takes a citizen of the town or community to have the knowledge that’s necessary when covering a story from multiple angles.” Most national news stories originate in small towns across the country, she added, but when the networks and national news outlets start covering them, they often report inaccurate information.
Still, Muller said, community journalism is tricky. “It’s hard reporting on the same people you see in the grocery store,” she said.
Having been a reporter for decades, “You never really get over this job. Even if you don’t make a career out of it, the job does have a huge effect on you,” Muller said, adding that she always feels a need to get to the bottom of every story she encounters. Muller said she once had an encounter with a politician at a fundraiser in Los Angeles, to whom she made a donation.
When she was introduced to him, she couldn’t help but ask him direct, pointed questions about his campaign rhetoric, saying, “I met the guy, and he seemed nice, but I just found myself drilling him with obnoxious questions about things in his stump speeches.
“After all, that’s what we do. You never really stop being a journalist once you stop, even if you change jobs.”