By: Debra Gersh
Community newspaper publisher Arthur Arundel has traveled
the world, but the focus of his newspapers is close to home
ARTHUR W. ARUNDEL’S travels and adventures have led him around the world, but when it comes to his newspapers, his attention is focused at home.
“”We call ourselves not local papers, we call ourselves local, local, local papers,”” he said, emphasizing each “”local”” more than the one before. “”Any editor who chooses to get a National Geographic handout, as it were, no disrespect, to fill a hole in that paper, knows he’s going to be tarred and feathered and carried out of town.””
The publisher of 13 community newspapers in northern Virginia, developed this local philosophy “”because people get national news, regional news through all sorts of other outlets. We’re drowning in information in this age, as you know. The one niche that the community newspaper has is to do that well.””
Local news is more to Arundel than just business positioning. He enjoys it.
“”It’s as satisfying to me to deal with the local school fight as to deal with the problem in Moscow today,”” he said.
“”These things are very relevant. You know, you come off the big scene in Washington and you move out to the country, way out in the country with little newspapers, and your friends in the city say, ‘Nick, what do you do out there all the time? Watch the grass grow?’
“”Well, I tell them, ‘You don’t know how many snakes there are in that grass, and they’re just as viperous as the ones in Washington. It’s a lot of fun.””
“”Nick”” Arundel’s newspaper career can be traced back to the tender age of 8, when he put together Nicky’s News, published from his Northwest Washington home, founded to secure a new restaurant for the National Zoo in Washington.
According to his biography, he was successful.
Earning a living as a journalist came much later, however, after a stint with the Marine Corps in Korea and Vietnam.
To help pay his way through Harvard in the mid-1950s, Arundel joined the Navy ROTC, “”never thinking anything would come of it,”” he said.
“”Then all of a sudden we were in the Korean War, and those of us who were in that program got a B.A. in one hand and orders to Quantico in the other. Nine weeks later, I was on my way to Korea.””
While in Korea, Arundel served as a Marine infantry parachute officer. He was “”volunteered to go”” into Vietnam as part of the first group of advisers sent there.
He remembers well the telegram his boss sent to President Eisenhower about whether the United States should commit troops. “”I can almost remember the exact words: ‘Under no circumstances should American forces ever be committed to the roadless marshes and swamps of Vietnam.’ Period.””
After his discharge from the Marine Corps in 1955, he talked his way into a job at the Washington bureau of CBS News.
Although Arundel “”hadn’t been near”” journalism since he was a young boy, “”somehow, something told me”” to pursue that track.
“”I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t study it at Harvard, wasn’t involved in the Harvard Crimson or any of that stuff,”” he said. “”But, I don’t know, somehow it just clicked this would be fun to do, interesting to do.
“”So I talked my way into a job in the CBS News bureau in Washington as a very junior copy boy, and never looked back.””
From CBS, Arundel got a job with United Press International, and in 1959, he was named special assistant to the secretary of commerce.
“”And then, with a young family coming along, I could not support them in the style in which they were going to become accustomed, so I set out and started my own little company,”” he said.
That “”little company”” was Arundel Communications, later known as ArCom, founded in 1960. Its first acquisition was radio station WAVA, which soon became one of the first all-news stations in the country.
“”When I bought it, it was a bankrupt little hillbilly [music] station called WARL,”” he recalled. The station had one disc jockey, who was very hot in country music in Washington.
“”One night I had a phone call about two in the morning,”” Arundel said. The caller told him his d.j. had been killed in a car crash.
“”I got up and walked around a while, and I got in the car and started down to the station, trying to figure out what the hell to do today, since he was all we had,”” Arundel said.
“”Well, I got to the station and there was this fellow on [the air] who was a newsman ? had the big, booming, deep voice ? named Sid Slappy. Sid Slappy and the news.””
Arundel told him, “”Sid, you’re going on the air at 6 o’clock as Alexander Cabot.”” So Sid/Alexander “”read the wire service news”” and WAVA became a news station.
The station really came into its own, however, after “”a bullet struck in Dallas. All of a sudden, Washington was riveted to news. It was John F. Ken-nedy. It was Martin Luther King. It was Robert Kennedy. It was Vietnam. Washington was riveted to news, and WAVA just took off.
“”It’s called luck, in a way, but I was naturally a journalist, so it was comfortable for me to do that 24 hours a day,”” he added.
During this time, Arundel also began acquiring community newspapers in Virginia. His first was the Loudon Times-Mirror, which was founded in 1798 and was purchased by Arundel in 1963.
Arundel also ventured into politics during the 1960s. He worked as an advance man for Richard Nixon in 1960, eventually switching to John F. Ken-nedy’s campaign because he came to so dislike the Republican candidate.
“”It was really, I must say, more a personality thing than anything else,”” he explained. “”There was just something about Richard Nixon that I just couldn’t stand.””
Arundel also worked for the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy in 1967. “”After Bobby was shot,”” Arundel recalled saying, “”We’ll laugh again, but we’ll never be young again.””
Among Arundel’s friends is John W. Warner, now the Republican senator representing Virginia. In 1960, Warner worked as an advance man for Nixon, while his friend worked for Kennedy.
The senator told E&P that he and Arundel ? who are at “”opposite ends of the political spectrum”” ? have always maintained a “”very friendly rivalry,”” and he was eager and generous with his accolades.
“”He’s an extraordinary man, an energetic visionary,”” Sen. Warner said of Arundel. “”He’s done a great deal to help the community [and has done] remarkable work in journalism.””
Senator Warner said he has challenged Arundel to run against him for the U.S. Senate, but Arundel has not accepted.
He declined to predict who might win such a contest, but said it would be a “”wonderful race. We would’ve turned Virginia upside down . . . . I’m going to go again, so he’s got one more chance.””
Arundel did run once for political office, in 1966, but lost the Democratic state Senate primary. That experience led him to observe that “”journalists and fathers of five children should stay the hell out of running for public office.””
Arundel said he learned that no matter how aboveboard a publisher’s motive for seeking office is, there will always be readers who perceive that the newspaper is being used to further the political career.
“”I was hurt to the extent that we would be accused of violating this First Amendment kind of trust, and abusing the people’s newspaper,”” he explained, “”because I do believe that ownership is a matter of trust.
“”The Loudon and Fauquier papers have been there for [nearly] 200 years. I’m just a passing publisher,”” he said. “”While I’m here, that is a trust to the people, to manage that paper. It’s not my own to do what I wish with.””
Arundel said at the same time, however, “”there are times when you have to just land foursquare in what you believe in”” and use the power of the press, “”not for personal benefit, but for public good.””
One such campaign that came to his mind was the papers’ investigation of Lyndon LaRouche, who now is in prison on charges of fiscal impropriety.
“”I’m not ashamed of having led an effort to uncover the abuses of people’s, little people’s money, older people’s money,”” Arundel noted.
“”All you have to do is get up in the morning and look in the mirror and know you’ve done right,”” he said. “”I don’t care if the Washington Post picks it up, [or] the Justice Department. That’s what it’s all about.””
Dedication to the community goes beyond publishing newspapers for Arundel, who has been involved in a variety of activities for the good of the area.
Arundel’s conservationist mother Marjorie was a great inspiration to him, as was his father Russell, a lobbyist for Pepsi-Cola, who “”had a great feeling for wildlife and the outdoors.””
His mother, now 92, is still involved in world environmental problems such as the Rain Forest in Brazil and pesticide problems in the United States, according to Arundel.
“”I think everyone has outside interests, but I think it’s good in stages of life to move yourself into things in which you can play a constructive role,”” he explained.
“”In the first part of our lives we learn. In the second part of our lives we earn. For all the rest, we give it all back. And the things I’m trying to do now, am involved in now, are primarily public things that are building and giving back to the communities in which I live.””
Among his community accomplishments, Arundel founded the Friends of the National Zoo, and went to Africa to bring back two gorillas for the zoo.
Arundel exercised his dedication to education by helping in the development of George Mason University in northern Virginia, eventually turning it from a small community college into a full-fledged university.
One of Arundel’s biggest accomplishments is the development of Great Meadow, a 500-acre home to Virginia’s Gold Cup Steeplechase and other outdoor events. Arundel bought the property in 1982 and has since donated it to a non-profit organization.
Friendly rival Sen. Warner made a point of noting that his horse has won the event twice.
“”Steeplechasing has been a passion,”” Arundel said of the hobby he acquired after leaving the Marine Corps. “”Many people like golf or tennis. I just happen to like steeplechasing because it’s got an element of danger in it. That’s not easy to find once you get out of school and football and all that stuff.””
Near Great Meadow is another Arundel project, The Plains.
Once an undeveloped field strewn with debris, Arundel bought most of the property there and it has been reborn as a rural town.
Although he has been appointed to a second term on the Virginia Racing Commission, which is developing regulations and will choose developers for a race track in the state, Arundel said he does not care much for flat racing.
He was asked by a previous governor to join the commission, he said, because the governor said he could not find anyone else with no conflict of interest who could tell one end of a horse from another.
“”I don’t just want to see them build a track. My objective here, as I’ve said publicly, is to build a blueprint for greatness for racing in Virginia,”” Arundel observed.
Arundel got out of the broadcasting business completely six or seven years ago, focusing his attention on his 13 community newspapers, which recently began changing their names to Times-Mirror in honor of the oldest property, in Loudon. The company also has changed its name to Times-Mirror Newspapers.
“”I was making a lot of money, but I wasn’t having any fun, so I sold out of broadcasting and went into print,”” he explained.
His experience in both media led Arundel to the conclusion that print was much more satisfying.
“”I think in journalism we probably give the same amount of energy, creative work, to doing a print story as a broadcast story. I think they’re fairly equal. But when they’re done, the broadcast story is gone off in the air like that,”” he said.
“”That print story, that newspaper, that magazine, you can pick it up in your hands and you can crumple it. Whether you just wrap the fish in it or start the fire with it, it still is a hard, little piece of information you can tuck in your drawer for your children and generations to come. It’s something of value, tangible value.””
To help position his newspapers, the company recently set up an advertising network called Washington Suburban Press, which links the Times-Mirror Newspapers with others in the region for a one-stop ad buy.
One of Arundel’s sons, Peter, is deputy publisher of Times-Mirror Newspapers in Fairfax, and his other four children have been, currently are, or are studying to be in the news business.
As for the future, Arundel, an active 65-year-old who described himself as “”a rolling stone,”” said he likes to “”accomplish things and then go on to something else.
“”But I like to finish things, too, before you move on.”nE&P
?”It’s as satisfying to me to deal with the local school fight as to deal with the problem in Moscow today.””
?? Arthur Arundel
?Senator Warner said he has challenged Arundel
to run against him for the U.S. Senate, but Arundel has not accepted.