IT’S A SAFE BET to say that Rachel Martin is the radio hostess with the mostest. While she reports the news from a studio now, she began her international journalism career reporting in the field from places like Afghanistan. After leaving field reporting, Martin started on NPR’s The Bryant Park Project, and is now the host of Weekend Edition Sunday, as well as occasionally filling in as guest host for All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Martin spoke with Lady Clever about her time as a female freelance journalist in the Middle East, her passion for radio hosting, and how she makes Weekend Edition Sunday so darn good every week.
How did you make the transition from field reporter to radio host/reporter?
I had been a freelancer for what felt like forever and I wanted a stable gig, so when NPR started a new daily two-hour news show called The Bryant Park Project, I applied to be the newscaster. I got the job and moved back to NYC. The host of the show, Alison Stewart, went on maternity leave shortly after the show started and I got my first turn in the host chair. I loved it. Doing the interview was always my favorite part of reporting and now that’s what I get to focus on – that conversation between two people and the unexpected places it can take you.
How do you vary your hosting style between the various shows you’ve worked on?
I make small style changes depending on what show I’m doing. The feeling on our show, Weekend Edition, is more casual and reflective, since it is the weekend — so my voice reflects that, and so does our story choice. When I’m filling in on the daily news shows like Morning Edition or All Things Considered, the tone is more authoritative and a smidge more formal. But on the whole, I actually think it’s important to just be yourself.
What are your goals each week as you host Weekend Edition Sunday?
We work really hard to bring our listeners something they haven’t heard in the past six days. Sometimes it’s hard to be the Sunday show. The news of the week has been pretty much reported out and we have to come up with a new angle. But we do it every week — thanks to a lot of hard work from our awesome staff at Weekend Edition. Ideally, every week I’d like to incorporate some piece or conversation that makes our audience think critically about something they hadn’t mulled over before — or a new perspective they haven’t heard. And finally, we have to laugh. Life is hard and the news is often grim – you should be able to turn on our program every week and know that we are going to make you think, make you question — and make you laugh, preferably out loud.
What has been your biggest challenge as a host?
The biggest challenge I’ve had is knowing how much to empathize with a particular guest. It’s a fine line to walk sometimes. You want to connect with a guest to get him or her to be as honest as they are willing to be. At the same time, you don’t want to empathize to the point where you are not being aggressive enough in pushing back when the need arises.
What would you tell women who want to pursue either a career in international journalism or communications?
International journalism is a particular kind of career pursuit. I thought I wanted to have a career as a foreign correspondent. I even got a master’s degree in foreign policy to try to help my chances. Then I packed my bags and went to Afghanistan as a freelancer. It’s a risk I’m glad I took for a lot of reasons and it opened a lot of doors for me. And I did have some great adventures as a foreign reporter in Afghanistan and later in Europe. But the thing to remember is that it can sometimes be isolating work. You travel all the time and you have to be ok with that — actually, you do it so much you need to love being on the road. It’s an endlessly-interesting line of work, but there can be real tolls on your personal life. For me, life as a foreign correspondent didn’t turn out to be what made me happy, so I looked for other opportunities to be closer to friends and family.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Ask for what you want. That’s by far the best professional advice I’ve been given. And it’s come from all kinds of mentors at different stages of my career and it’s always relevant. You can’t assume that other people can read your mind or professional intentions. You have to say it out loud, even if it seems presumptuous or far-fetched. Name the thing you want and you’ll be surprised at how many people will step up to help you make it happen.
With women like Rachel bringing us the news, we’re all ears. — LC
Cover photo credit: Katie Burk/NPR