We sit down with the Times-Dispatch’s next editor to talk shop, get an inside perspective on the paper’s evolution over the years, and attempt to predict the future.
Paige Mudd, soon to be the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s newest editor (and first female to be so), was gracious enough to acknowledge our fascination with this historical milestone in local media and sit down with us for coffee. Not that she is entirely a symbol–she’s certainly earned her way, having been at the RTD since her college intern days–but the significance is still there. Times, they are a-changin’ in Richmond, but Ms. Mudd has been watching them change for a long time. She’s ready.
Q. What’s the response been like since the announcement of your promotion?
People have responded so strongly to me being the first woman in the position–people I know and people from all over the world. I’ve been really surprised.
A random guy I don’t know emailed me last Saturday. He was on vacation in the Outer Banks and had never seen the Times-Dispatch before. It was at the hotel where they were staying, and he picked it up and showed it to his daughter. It was really great–right as she was starting to think that newspapers were dying, he set her straight.
Q. How did you get into the biz?
I knew in high school that I wanted to get into newspapers, so that allowed me to focus my college search on journalism. I went to Syracuse and worked on the school paper there. We were all total nerds and spent 12 hours a day really learning by doing, even though I studied journalism. And while we were the school paper, we didn’t get funding from the school, we were completely independent–we were putting together a newspaper and writing all the stories, laying it out and having it printed, and getting it delivered. Everything.
Q. But how did you get from Syracuse to the Times-Dispatch?
I interned there before my last semester and always loved Richmond. I was one of a long line of interns from Syracuse, randomly. Somebody did one once and the connection was always there after that–a friend of mine had the gig here and put me in touch with the right people.
Q. So how many editors does that mean you have worked under?
Bill Millsaps was the editor at the time, and during my first couple years employed there. He left, then Glenn Proctor was the editor for a few years, and then Danny Finnegan ever since.
Q. What was it like when you started? Both internally and externally–the industry was so different then.
Well, I’ve been there for 15 years, but there’s probably been more change during that time than any other period in newspaper history. When I started, we were only focused on putting out the paper the next day. There wasn’t any rush to post a story online, we just weren’t in that business then. We’ve gone from simply focused on putting out that paper to keeping up with the 24-hour news day.
Q. Who have your biggest influences and mentors been?
That’s tough. My most influential managers have been Tom Silvestri and Danny Finnegan. But I’ve also gotten to work with a couple of editors who have been with me since my internship days: John Hoke and Tom Kapsidelis. And my husband, of course. He’s essential, and I certainly would not be where I am without him pushing me along.
Q. Perhaps unfairly and perhaps simply because it’s been around a long time, there’s a perception that the Times-Dispatch is a boys club. Do you think that’s true?
I don’t feel like the fact that I’m a woman has ever been a detriment to me, I certainly don’t think I got this job just to be the first woman to do it. I’m not the female token editor. I believe that I’ve proven myself. There are people who have supported me the whole way and let me take the reins on many occasions.
It’s interesting that there’s still that perception, but I’d invite anyone who feels that way to take a day in our newsroom and see that it’s a welcoming place for anyone who works there. It’s easy to judge something when you’re not familiar with it, but I don’t find it to be that way at all.
Q. What does the future look like for the Times-Dispatch?
Danny Finnegan and I have a relationship where we’ve been having to deal with these changes as they come. I don’t feel like we can ever stand still in this business anymore. We’re lucky to work for a publisher [Tom Silvestri] who is truly innovative and comes up with great ideas to make the most of the content we produce.
My role as editor is, bottom line, produce the best content that I can, but the evolution will be continuing to give it to people where they want it, when they want it. The biggest change is the breaking news environment that’s all day every day. Giving people their news where they want to read it whether it’s in the paper, on the iPad or on their phone.
Q. Is it still worth it to try to scoop other media outlets? Seems like sometimes we’re scooped by just individuals on Twitter–does the immediacy of news these days make it less relevant to keep trying to be first?
We’re in a competitive environment where we break news every day. But we’re also very careful to get the story right. We’ve always prided ourselves on making sure we’re always 100% comfortable on the story.
Q. What about managing so many staff members, since they’re all using social media individually. How do you keep tabs on accuracy?
We have expectations for our staff and how they use social media, but we also have a talented group of people who have been doing this a long time. I’m comfortable letting them use their judgement.
And it’s not hapening in a vacuum–we’re all in the same newsroom. If someone’s uncomfortable with something, they ask.
Q. How is your role going to change come July 1st?
Danny and I have been one-two in the newsroom for so long. He’s been doing the higher level planning–very hands-on with digital and other projects that include the newsroom and others as well. Mine has been simply to run the day-to-day operations of the newsroom. News is my passion, and I never wanted to focus too much of my attention on other projects. Now I’ll be taking on a bigger role but still managing the newsroom.
Q. That…sounds exhausting.
It’s a fun job. It’s a hard job, but it’s a rewarding job. It’s crazy, but I can’t imagine my life being anything but crazy, and I get to work with people who I really care about and trust and rely on and respect. And not everyone can say that about their job.
Paige Mudd takes the helm as editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on July 1st!