Lindsey Treffry | The Argonaut
Rachel Martin’s friend and NPR coworker was kidnapped in 2007 while covering news on the ground in Iraq. The kidnappers later called with death threats and wanted a ransom for his release.
At that time, Martin, a foreign correspondent for NPR, was assigned to cover John McCain’s visit to Camp Victory in Iraq and told her editor she would be devastated if the kidnappers killed her friend.
“I said ‘If they kill him, I’m not going to meet deadline,’” Martin said. “... My editor said, ‘Yes you will.’”
Her friend was released that day, and Martin said she learned a valuable lesson about maintaining calm amidst chaos from the experience.
Martin spoke to the University of Idaho community Tuesday about her experience broadcasting in the Middle East, including coverage of Afghanistan’s first democratic presidential election and the implementation of schools for Afghan girls.
Martin presented “Between the Lines: Five Lessons from Afghanistan, Iraq and the Home Front” to a full house in the UI College of Law courtroom.
The Idaho Falls High School graduate traveled to Afghanistan in 2003 as part of her graduate studies at Columbia University. By 2005 she was an NPR foreign correspondent in Berlin, covering issues like the London terrorist attacks and elections in Germany. Martin also worked for a short time covering White House Affairs for ABC News.
As a reporter, Martin said she wanted to educate herself about what she wanted to report on.
“I find that what makes me care — what makes listeners care — is how policies affect individuals,” she said.
Martin had the opportunity to do just that while covering policy such as the Pentagon’s ban of women from direct combat units. Martin gave the policy a face by publishing the story of Silver Star recipient Leigh Ann Hester, whose combat efforts earned her the third highest combat medal.
During her NPR coverage of the eradication of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Martin featured U.S. Marine Maj. Darrel Choat, who publicly acknowledged that he was gay for the first time on NPR.
“It changed a lot of opinions and it had changed a lot of minds,” Martin said. “It mattered to find the person to tell the policy.”
Martin’s five-part speech included subtopics on her “half-full” view on life, the struggle of adjusting overseas and the truth of spoon-fed information.
“Any time I was down on my job ... she would say ‘Pinch yourself, because you’re living your dream and you don’t even know it,’” Martin said.
Martin emphasized the importance of living life to its fullest, and shared insight on how she furthered her career as she answered audience questions.
“Shaking things up — not doing the safe thing — can catapult your career,” Martin said.
Her speech was organized by Glenn Mosley, UI director of broadcasting in the School of Journalism and Mass Media, who said Martin’s speech was a great way for students to interact with an Idaho native who had national experience.
“If students do what we encourage them to do — take part in getting involved on campus, to write, edit, and critically analyze news — they’ll be as well prepared to go on and be like Rachel Martin,” Mosley said.
Her speech was sponsored by the UI School of Journalism and Mass Media, the James A. Louis McClure Center for Public Policy Research, the Martin Institute and Northwest Public Radio.
Kerry Swanson, station manager for NWPR, said the most interesting thing about Martin was her sense of adventure and how she has followed her dream.
“The sense that ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to try it, even if I’m wrong,’” Swanson said.
While teaching journalism classes overseas, Martin said she told her students to take risks as a reporter, but ultimately decided against living in a conflict zone.
She said she had never been in the line of fire, but was 30 feet from a rocket that killed a neighboring citizen.
“But that’s the job right?” Martin said.
As seen in Nov. 4 issue of The Argonaut.