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Roland Martin: From black press to network pundit

Kam Williams
Roland Martin: From black press to network pundit

Born in Houston, Texas, on Nov. 14, 1968, Roland S. Martin is an award-winning journalist and a busy one, at that. He hosts a radio talk show, writes books and a nationally syndicated column, and provides commentary on the cable network TV One and as a regular contributor to a host of CNN programs, including “The Situation Room,” “Anderson Cooper 360” and “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

Named one of the 150 Most Influential African Americans by Ebony magazine earlier this year, Martin was also honored with this year’s NAACP Image Award for Best Interview for his tête-à-tête with Illinois Sen., and now President-elect, Barack Obama. On top of that, he recently received the National Association of Black Journalists’ 2008 President’s Award for his work in multiple media platforms.

All told, he has earned more than 20 professional awards for journalistic excellence, including a regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

An insightful and provocative analyst, Martin has made appearances on MSNBC, Fox, Court TV, Black Entertainment Television, the British Broadcasting Corp., National Public Radio and the “Tom Joyner Morning Show.”

He is also a veteran of the black press, having served as the managing editor of both the Houston Defender and the Dallas Weekly, and as the executive editor and general manager of the Chicago Defender. He is married to the Rev. Jacquie Hood Martin. The couple resides in both Chicago and Dallas.

Martin recently took some time to speak with the Banner about making the jump from print to multiple media outlets, reacting to an Obama win and the importance of a journalist maintaining impartiality.

I see you’re based in both Chicago and Dallas. That reminds me of how Tom Joyner once did a daily commute between both cities for his radio show.

Yeah, I believe that was when he was doing morning drive in Dallas and afternoon drive in Chicago.

I see you everywhere. How are you keeping up a busy schedule like that?

[Joyner]’s called the hardest-working man in radio, and some refer to me as the hardest-working multimedia journalist. I’m based in Chicago, I have speaking engagements all across the country, and I go to New York City two to three days a week.

Has your life changed a lot since you’ve become a TV personality?

Of course. The travel has been consistent. I’ve been recognized by a lot more folks for what I do and my number of speaking engagements has gone up dramatically. But you know what the deal is? I’m still me. That’s the most important thing to me. When people see me, I’m going to be real and do exactly what I do. I’m not going to try to be different. I’m just going to be me.

Did you remain impartial as a journalist, or did you endorsed a candidate in this election?

As part of my CNN special on age, race and gender, I spoke about how I voted for [President George W.] Bush’s father for president in 1988, [and] for Ann Richards and later George W. Bush for governor of Texas. And I announced that in this election, I was voting for Barack Obama.

I wanted to show that I’ve voted for old white guys, women, white women, young white men, and so forth. I’ve always maintained that I’m a columnist and a commentator, so obviously my role is different from that of a correspondent like [CNN’s] John King, because we have a different skill set.

Do you ever find it hard competing for air time with other commentators?

That doesn’t concern me because the bottom line is, when they’re coming to me, they’re coming to me. People bring different perspectives to the table. You just go in and make your points, and that works for me.

Do you feel more pressure to speak in sound bites on TV than in print or on radio?

Nope, the same thing happens in radio and writing. It all has to be compelling. People who write in long, flowery language are boring as hell in newspapers. And it’s the same in radio. You can’t drone on and not be exciting and interesting there, either. They’re different media, but the bottom line’s the same. It’s all a matter of mastering the different elements of each part of the industry.

You were once associated with the Houston Defender. Are you still in touch with the paper’s publisher, Sonny Jiles?

Yes, of course. That’s the first place I interned, and later I was managing editor. So yeah, I know Sonny very well. I just saw her in Houston a couple of weeks ago.

Are you happy?

Always! Look, I have a very simple philosophy: If I wake up breathing, I’m happy. I don’t sit here and get stressed out about all kinds of drama. Hey, I absolutely love what I do. This is what God had destined for me, and it’s been what I have been doing since I was 13 years old. So yes, I’m happy. Absolutely!

Are you ever afraid?

No.

What was the last book you read?

I’m typically reading six or seven books at one time. The last book I read was “The Race Beat” by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. It’s about media coverage of the civil rights movement. I’m also reading “Twice as Good,” Marcus Mabry’s biography of Condoleezza Rice.

What music are you listening to nowadays?

Oh, please. I have 4,000 plus songs on my iPod. I’ll literally go from jamming Kirk Franklin to putting on John Mellencamp to playing Rascal Flatts to Erykah Badu to Mary J. Blige. Then I might put on some Pavarotti. And of course, I’ll put on my favorites, Kirk Whalum and Maxwell.

I’ve got everything from zydeco to salsa to country to RandB to jazz. The only thing you’re not going to find on my iPod is polka music.