Thursday, March 24, 2016

Five-Q with Annie Martin, Orlando Sentinel

Journalism was my ticket into professional writing, something that I aspired to do ever since I learned that a person can make good money by expressing themselves through use of the printed word. 

However, once I got into actually working for a newspaper, I was forced to look beyond my own desires because journalism is very much a collaborative effort. You work with amazing people who, unlike myself, are completely dedicated to the craft and practice of great news reporting.

One of those amazing people is Annie Martin. I met her while working for the Battle Creek Enquirer. She was a fantastic reporter then, and she is a fantastic reporter now in her role as an education reporter for the Orlando Sentinel. We chatted about several topics that revolve around the role of the newspaper reporter in today's world. 

She can be reached on Twitter at @reporterannie.

Annie is a fantastic reporter who has worked
in several print  media markets.
Aaron David Harris: With all the points people for have accessing information today, what do you believe is the role of the newspaper reporter?

Annie Martin: I think we can delve deeply into issues in a way that other outlets can't or won't. Other media outlets offer specific kinds of coverage -- namely breaking news or blogs -- and in many cases, they do it well. I think we're able to provide coverage of everything from local governments to national elections in thorough, nuanced way. I've worked at local papers for six years and I know we've covered issues that other media wouldn't cover, or wouldn't cover as extensively. We provide watchdog reporting and draw attention to cases where elected officials haven't acted wisely or ethically.Without newspapers, many of our communities wouldn't have that kind of reporting. 

ADH: You’ve been working the education beat for a while now. Is that something you always wanted or is it something you just fell into?

AM: I didn't study journalism with the goal of covering education, but I'm so glad I get to cover this complex and diverse beat now. I think education is one of the most pressing concerns for our communities right now and I love feeling like I can contribute to the conversation. You do a wide variety of stories on the education beat, from finances to features. I also find that people are genuinely passionate about the things I write about, and they should be -- whether these issues affect their own children or others in their community, our elected officials are making decisions that affect everyone's future.

ADH: What’s the most interesting story you’ve ever done?

AM: This is a tough question. I felt proud of a story I did a couple of years ago about a state program that gives tax credits to businesses that donate money for scholarships to low-income children to attend private schools. The private schools can also use this money for religious instruction, which is a big no-no in the public schools. Florida is big on public school accountability, and requires schools to be transparent on almost everything from test scores to teacher salaries to budgets. We live in a state with a very broad open records law. But this program has diverted money that would've gone to the general tax pot to private schools that had to report little about their finances or student performance. This program has continued to grow, and I think a lot of people feel conflicted about the premise, and way it has been executed. Some people think that low-income families should have the opportunity to choose to send their children to private schools, but the private schools should be more transparent if they are receiving tax dollars. 

On a different note, I love meeting young people who have done amazing things and I've had the privilege of meeting a lot of them.Years ago, I wrote about a local high school graduate who was an immigrant from a conflict-ridden country, had a turbulent home life and lived in public housing. But she had done well in school and given a lot of her free time back to her school and community. She was an extraordinarily warm, loving teenager and was so optimistic about her future. She was one of those people you remember forever and I still think about her a lot. 

ADH: A lot of newspaper reporters I know do so many other things now. They host podcasts, run blogs/vlogs, make TV/radio appearances, write books, etc. Is this kind of career diversification helpful or a distraction for a reporter?

AM: At my current job, we're regularly asked to do short interviews that are aired on one of our local TV stations and I had not done this at my previous employers. While I did not set out to become a TV reporter, I've always tried to embrace these opportunities because I think it's a good way to get people interested in reading the paper and reach a new audience. Our industry is evolving and I see being flexible as part of my job. I don't think it's a distraction because it's in line with our overall goal -- informing and engaging people in their community.

ADH: What advice would you give people interested in a career in journalism, or any kind of career in mass communication? Are there different challenges for women and minorities?

AM: Make no mistake, this is a tough profession. Our industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past decade, and I don't think we're done yet. Be adaptable. Try new things. Pick up a new skill. You might have to move to a new city or work in a different type of job than the one you expected. 

However, don't let anyone dissuade you from pursuing a journalism career if you love it. I think there will always be opportunities in our field because deep down, I think the news will always be important for readers and viewers. This is a rewarding career and given the opportunity to choose a different field, I wouldn't.  I'm not sure if there are different challenges for women and minorities. I tend to talk to a lot of women on my beat (the parents I meet are often women, as are the people who work in schools) and I've wondered if they're more candid with me than they would be with a male reporter. I'll never know.