NPR’s Michel Martin Will Receive PMJA’s 2021 Leo C. Lee Award
The PMJA Board is excited to announce that Michel Martin, Weekend Host of NPR’s All Things Considered, will receive the 2021 Leo C. Lee award.
The award exemplifies significant achievement in public radio news. Past recipients include Tanya Ott, Martha Foley, Keith Woods and last year’s recipient Maria Hinojosa.
Michel Martin’s journalism career spans several decades, with notable tenures at The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal as well as Nightline and ABC News before joining NPR.
Martin grew up in New York City in the heyday of newspapers and remembers her parents subscribing to several daily newspapers at a time. Reading the news led her to work on her student newspaper in college as a columnist. A college fellow noticed her columns in the student paper.
“He saw some of my columns and said ‘hey this is pretty good,’ and I told him ‘yeah this is really just a hobby, I can’t do anything with this,’ and he said ‘well, I think you should try,’ I never want to forget how much that encouragement, from someone who had no reason to encourage me, played a role in my career,” said Martin.
Martin got an internship at the Washington Post which led to full-time employment for six years. Next, she went to the Wall Street Journal as a political reporter and then seized upon an opportunity to join ABC News and the team at Nightline. She left the network shortly after Ted Koppel’s departure and accepted an offer from NPR that included starting a new show called Tell Me More.
One lesson Martin learned from legendary Washington DJ Donnie Simpson stuck with her in the transition from television to radio: on television you’re speaking to the room, but on the radio, you’re speaking to one person.
While taking on the task of launching Tell Me More, Martin hoped to create a show that spoke individually to people especially people like her parents.
“I think I was just always interested in talking to them. And not just them, but other people too who are smart and care about the world but don’t necessarily have access to the spaces that fancier people have access to,” said Martin.
Tell Me More aired on NPR member stations from 2007-2014. Martin calls the show the proudest achievement of her career. It spoke directly about the minority experience and gave visibility to those who did not have it. Tell Me More was one of the first shows to spotlight the experience of BIPOC communities.
One of Martin’s most memorable moments on the show was also a story of tragedy. She interviewed the parents of several college-aged children who were murdered as innocent bystanders when a disagreement over a street dice game turned violent.
“BIPOC people are often viewed as perpetrators of violence. People don’t often view them as victims of violence. And it meant something to me to hear from this father who had done his best to get his kid to college and have his child taken away from him over something meaningless. It’s a moment I’m proud of,” said Martin.
Martin is also proud that Tell Me More was the first national radio show to interview transgender activist Janet Mock. Near the end of the show’s run, Martin interviewed Mock again for an update on strides being made in the trans community.
NPR canceled Tell Me More in 2014, and Martin eventually became the weekend host for All Things Considered. She’s learned a few hosting rules she continues to live by.
“Book the person, not the not job. Often people feel like they have to talk to the chairman or the person in charge, I’m interested in the person instead. If you give yourself a different set of rules, you give yourself a different set of results,” said Martin.
As she looks ahead to the social climate of our nation and the role that journalism is trying to play, Martin says she’s worried.
“We’re not just living in a post truth environment, but an anti-truth environment,” she said. “My hope is that we as a community of people who are based in reality will figure out a way to live up to our principles, which is not to indoctrinate people, but that we will find a way to persuade people that they really need the truth, even if it makes them uncomfortable. We need everybody. I’ve never been interested in tribalism. I am interested in understanding each other.”
Michel Martin will receive PMJA’s 2021 Leo C. Lee award at a virtual ceremony in June.