Made of Shade: Roland Martin on Risk and Race
Roland Martin is not afraid of controversy, or of being seen as controversial.
During his years as a highly visible contributor for CNN, Martin turned up the heat on the network, often speaking about issues cowards run and duck from.
The media mover and shaker is fearless in his approach to tackling issues of injustice toward people of color. He is also more than a mouthpiece, having authored Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith; Speak, Brother! A Black Man’s View of America; and The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin.
A modern day Fredrick Douglass, if you will, Martin speaks from a place of power. Gaining career equality for African American media folk and journalists is one of the issues he continues to fight. That is one of the many reasons that the prestigious National Association of Black Journalists named Roland Martin as the 2013 Journalist of the Year.
These days, he serves as host and managing editor for “News One Now,” a new live one-hour, weekday morning news broadcast slated to premiere in September on TV One. “News One Now” will air on radio, television, and online featuring a “Skype” structure, set to give an outlet to provide daily weigh-ins and topic trends.
In this edition of Made of Shade, Martin joins me to discuss his new show, a few words on what Dr. King would expect from President Obama, lack of media coverage for all persons and discrimination toward Black media folk and journalists.
Quassan Castro: Some news shows today break down debates and issues by sort of a Democrats vs. Republican fashion. I understand your new “News One Now” takes a different approach. Can you elaborate?
Roland Martin: The problem I have with discussions in traditional cable news is they are trite, tired and weak conversations. Typically, what you have are folks who are ending up defending political turf as opposed to discussing the issues at hand. For instance, Colin Powell who is a Republican, lashed out at Republicans in North Carolina for their recent voting laws, and the governor, who is Republican, was sitting in the audience.
What if you had a conversation dealing with the North Carolina voter suppression law and you actually had two Republicans debating it, one that believes in the bill and one who doesn’t? That actually brings a discussion about the bill itself as oppose to a party bill. So the discussion that we’ve had on “Washington Watch” and that we’re going to have on “News One Now” deals with the issue at hand. I don’t care if it’s two Republicans or two Democrats or a Republican and a Democrat, for me, it’s about attacking the issue.
Quassan Castro: Fifty years after the March on Washington at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., a gathering will take place at the historic site. Explain your involvement in the upcoming March on Washington anniversary and what type of issues do you think Dr. King would want President Obama to address on behalf of black folks?
Roland Martin: I’ll be covering the event. I’m speaking at the statehood rally, which is taking place for the March On Washington event as well. I think Dr. King would want President Obama to focus on the exact same thing that he challenged President Kennedy on and that is a radical economic plan for Black folks.
If people go back and read that speech they will see that King was speaking about economic freedom through and through. For some reason, people have tried to turn his speech into a whole other agenda. King would urge Obama to look at the Black-White wealth gap tremendous increase in the last 25 years. King would want President Obama to focus on the housing crises. King would say, as he said in ’63, it’s about the money; it’s economics, economics, economics.
Quassan Castro: At some major news stations, often our stories are ignored unless someone steps up and bring our stories to the forefront. You’ve been quite successful with making sure the African-American voice is heard. Why do our stories not get discussed if someone like yourself doesn’t bring it up?
Roland Martin: Easy, because you don’t have many Roland Martins who are executives. You don’t have many Roland Martins who are determining what the news is and determining who gets hired. You have very few Black executive producers who are the folk determining what’s on the shows.
Very few Black senior producers exist in those environments. That’s a fundamental problem. We see it over and over again. If you took a tour through the newsrooms of every major cable network and every major broadcast network, you will see few African-Americans who are in a leadership position as it relates to determining what’s going on the air, pure and simple. It’s a fundamental problem that needs to change.
Quassan Castro: Most certainly! Is it a backlash when a person of color works in a predominantly White controlled mainstream media and consistently fights for our stories to receive attention coverage in a non-limiting and non-bias way? If so, elaborate on the types of backlash.
Roland Martin: It hurts the person in terms of how you are branded within a particular company. You’re trying to fight something and go at the issues, which becomes troubling for some. Though the reality is Fredrick Douglass says, “power concedes nothing without a demand,” and we must agitate, agitate and agitate even more. If folks aren’t going to do it, you have to do it yourself, even if you may face a personal backlash that may end up resulting in you not getting the opportunity to advance within a particular company.
Quassan Castro: On another note, what should writers of color do in order to get work in media avenues that have largely shut us out?
Roland Martin: That’s where NABJ is important and other minority journalism organizations are important. It’s important to hone your craft, to go after every single opportunity. What I said in my acceptance speech of the NABJ award is you have to get the opportunity first and go for it! If somebody will give you an opportunity in a smaller outlet, then that’s exactly what you take, as oppose to waiting for someone at a larger outlet who may never give you the shot you deserve.
Quassan Castro: What’s your prediction on the Jordan Davis trial and will you discuss the trial on News One Now?
Roland Martin: We’ll discuss the case on “News One Now,” but I can’t make a prediction on the case because there are way too many outstanding details.
Quassan Castro: You say in a prior interview, that in 1992 Spike Lee caused some “consternation” amongst magazine editors when it was reported that he would request an African-American writer when interviewed by White publications. Some folks were angry at his request, but it led to Black journalists getting job opportunities. Should we be looking at folks like Spike Lee, Tyler Perry or even socially-conscious progressive celebrity White folks to request an African-American journalist upon request to be interviewed by a White publication?
Roland Martin: Absolutely, if those people are not seeing a presence of Black journalists and media people, they should take part in shifting a change. At the end of the day, it’s about using your celebrity and credibility in order to make changes. Yeah, people were pissed off at Spike, but they should have been pissed off at what was taking place in the newsrooms.
I love it when people get angry with the person who points out the bigotry as oppose to seeing a problem with an all-White newsroom. The fundamental problem is that the media does not like to be called out on anything. You can turn to almost all of the networks and newspapers and they will talk about the lack of diversity in the Republican party but the question is, do they have the exact same problem when it comes to the newsroom?
When black women and children go missing we rarely see their faces plastered in the media. Also, we never hear about the stories of young gay black men who commit suicide at very high rates due to rejection and monstrous bullying. Should we also fight to bring those stories through the media?
If the media is going to cover a story, they should cover stories involving ALL people. One of the reasons you see that happening when it comes to missing white women, none of these executives can actually give a credible answer as to why missing person stories of black women and children are ignored. The reality is most of these executives do not have black wives, black daughters, black nieces or black sisters. You can’t give me any other reason why I can turn the TV on and see a missing white women all the time but it takes pressure, faxing, emailing, calling to get somebody black who has been missing on the air. It’s a problem, that happens over and over again.
Follow Quassan on Twitter at @Quassan.