Inside Media: Tell Me More

May 30, 2009

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

For Michel Martin, becoming a journalist was a decision she made with "the heart and not the head."

The host of NPR’s "Tell Me More," a daily news and talk show, says she never considered another career. Journalism was what Martin knew — and knew well.

She landed a summer internship at The Washington Post and was later hired by the paper. Martin fondly remembers covering stories such as the birth of zoo animals.

As White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, she covered George H.W. Bush’s presidency, before making the leap to ABC’s "Nightline" with Ted Koppel.

It was a curious move, given her view of television years earlier.

"I never saw faces like my own" and thought "you can only be what you can see," she said.

Martin worked at "Nightline" for 13 years, calling it the greatest experience of her life, personally and professionally. Koppel, she said, was "very warm and supportive."

Still, she views broadcast news as "being a very male-oriented business," noting that that’s why Katie Couric’s debut as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" received so much fanfare. At Martin’s new home on radio, female commentators are nothing out of the ordinary. Terry Gross and Cokie Roberts have ruled NPR’s airwaves for decades.

When asked how she created "Tell Me More," Martin compared it to Toni Morrison being asked why she wrote "The Bluest Eye."

"Morrison used to say, ‘I wrote the book that I wanted to read.’ Well, I put together the program that I wanted to hear," Martin said.

While Martin has covered a number of topics on her show and elsewhere, the story that stands out the most is Hurricane Katrina.

"To this day, I can still smell it and see it — people getting off buses in Houston, mosquito-bitten and traumatized. It’s just not something you’d expect to see in this country," she said.

And while the media did a good job covering the "outrageousness of Katrina," Martin believes reporters could do a better job of follow through.

"We’re good at finding a person to be mad at, but finding out why something happened is a fundamental task of journalism. I think the media have a very difficult time with ‘why.’"

In all, Martin sees her main job as telling "you what’s happening, so you can decide what you’re going to do about it."

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