Born in Houston, Texas on November 14, 1968, Roland S. Martin is an award-winning journalist who divides his time among hosting a radio talk show, writing books and a nationally-syndicated column, as a commentator on the TV One Network and as a regular contributor to such CNN programs as The Situation Room, Anderson Cooper 360 and Lou Dobbs Tonight.
Named one of the 150 Most Influential African-Americans by Ebony Magazine in 2008, he is also this yearís winner of the NAACP Image Award for Best Interview for his tete-a-tete with Senator Barack Obama. And he was recently awarded the 2008 President's Award by the National Association of Black Journalists for his work in multiple media platforms.
An insightful and provocative analyst, Mr. Martin has appeared not only on CNN and TV One, but on MSNBC, FOX, Court TV, BET, BBC, NPR and the Tom Joyner Morning Show. A veteran of the black press, Roland was formerly the managing editor of the Houston Defender and the Dallas Weekly, and the executive editor/general manager of the Chicago Defender.
The winner of more than 20 professional awards for journalistic excellence, Mr. Martin has landed a regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television News Directors. He is married to the Rev. Jacquie Hood Martin, and the couple resides in both Chicago and Dallas.
Here, Roland talks about his plans for election night coverage when he will be dividing his air time between TV One and CNN.
KW: Hey, Roland thanks for the time.
RM: Not a problem.
KW: Congratulations on your meteoric rise.
RM: Oh, I appreciate that.
KW: How does that feel?
RM: Itís called 17 years worth of work. Itís all good.
KW: I see youíre based in both Chicago and in Dallas. That reminds me of how Tom Joyner once did a daily commute between both cities for his radio show.
RM: Yeah, I believe that was when he was doing morning drive in Dallas and afternoon drive in Chicago.
KW: I see you everywhere. Are you keeping up a busy schedule like that?
RM: Heís called the hardest working man in radio, and some refer to me as the hardest-working multi-media journalist. Iím based in Chicago, I have speaking engagements all across the country, and I go to New York City two to three days a week.
KW: Has your life changed a lot since youíve become a TV personality?
RM: Of course. The travel has been consistent. Iíve been recognized by a lot more folks for what I do, and my number of speaking engagements has gone up dramatically. But you know what the deal is? Iím still me. Thatís the most important thing to me. When people see me, Iím going to be real, and do exactly what I do. Iím not going to try to be different. Iím just going to be me.
KW: What do you expect the TV One election night coverage to be like?
RM: Election night, weíll be going until at least 2 AM, because you have to factor in the West Coast. Weíre seeing an explosive number of people voting early. With a heavy turnout, I would not be surprised to see judges extending the voting hours and keeping the polls open late, especially if you have machine breakdowns and precincts running out of ballots. We saw some of that in 2004 and in the 2006 midterm elections. So, I think itís going to be another long night.
KW: How will you manage to be on CNN, too?
RM: Iíll be at CNN on the set offering analysis, but we have it set up for me to break away and provide some analysis on TV One as well, where Arthur Fennell and Joe Madison will be anchoring. I really like how TV One has established its coverage by having different players- Tom Joyner, Michael Eric Dyson and Jacque Reid Ė there in Chicago, because, if Obama wins, itís going to be the biggest party on the planet. You can expect upwards of a million people to be in and around Grant Park.
KW: How do you think black people elsewhere will react to an Obama win?
RM: When Joe Louis won the heavyweight crown, black folks would flood the streets of Harlem and other communities in celebration. And I think youíll see that kind of jubilation if Obama wins the presidency after all that black people have endured in this country. That is huge. That is major. And I think that African-Americans will actually be able for the first time in our lives to turn to our children and say, ďYes, indeed, you can grow up to be the President of the United States.Ē But beyond that, I think itís also important what it will mean for the standard of beauty in America to be viewed through the prism of Michelle Obama. This is often not talked about. However, Michelle Obama is going to attract the kind of attention as First Lady that Jackie Kennedy enjoyed. She wonít emulate Jackie Kennedy, but bring her own style and flair. Imagine what it will mean if Michelle begins to wear the clothes and outfits of black designers.
KW: Is Obama going to be awaiting the election returns in Chicago?
RM: Yes, more than likely, heíll vote that morning, get the obligatory photo-op of him going to vote in his local precinct. Then heíll probably be doing a ton of radio appearances on stations in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia. And heíll be in Chicago that night since, frankly, thereís nothing more to do on Election Day.
KW: Do you think there might be some tally irregularities on Election Day?
RM: Thereís always the possibility of that, but one never knows. Weíll see how it shakes out.
KW: Have you considered having black conservative Shelby Steele as a guest on election night, since he wrote a book subtitled ďWhy Obama Wonít Win.Ē
RM: I donít have creative control over whoís booked. Heíll probably be booked for one of the days soon after the election.
KW: Have you remained impartial as a journalist, or have you endorsed a candidate?
RM: As part of my CNN special on age, race and gender, I spoke about how I voted for Bushís father for president in 1988, for Ann Richards and later George W. Bush for governor of Texas. And I announced that in this election I was voting for Barack Obama. I wanted to show that Iíve voted for old white guys, women, white women, young white men, and so forth. Iíve always maintained that Iím a columnist and a commentator, so obviously my role is different from that of a correspondent like John King, because we have a different skill set.
KW: Do you ever find it hard competing for air time with other commentators?
RM: That doesnít concern me because the bottom line is, when theyíre coming to me, theyíre coming to me. People bring different perspectives to the table. You just go in and make your points, and that works for me.
KW: Do you feel more pressure to speak in sound bites on TV than in print or on radio?
RM: Nope, the same thing happens in radio and writing. It all has to be compelling. People who write in long, flowery language are boring as hell in newspapers. And itís the same in radio. You canít drone on and not be exciting and interesting there either. Theyíre different media, but the bottom lineís the same. Itís all a matter of mastering the different elements of each part of the industry.
KW: I see that you were once associated with one of the papers I write for, the Houston Defender. Are you still in touch with the paperís publisher, Sonny Jiles?
RM: Yes, of course, thatís the first place I interned. And later I was managing editor. So yeah, I know Sonny very well. I just saw her in Houston a couple of weeks ago.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
RM: Always! Look, I have a very simple philosophy: If I wake up breathing, Iím happy. I donít sit here and get stressed out about all kinds of drama. Hey, I absolutely love what I do. This is what God had destined for me, and itís been what I have been doing since I was 13 years-old. So, yes Iím happy. Absolutely!
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
RM: Iím typically reading six or seven books at one time. The last book I read was The Race Beat by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. Itís about media coverage of the Civil Rights Movement. Iím also reading Twice as Good, Marcus Mabryís biography of Condoleezza Rice.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
RM: The hell if I know.
KW: Music maven Heather Covington was wondering: Whatís music are you listening to nowadays?
RM: Oh please, I have 4,000 plus songs on my iPod. Iíll literally go from jamming Kirk Franklin to putting on John Mellencamp to playing Rascal Flatts to Erykah Badu to Mary J. Blige. Then I might put on some Pavarotti. And of course, Iíll put on my favorites Kirk Whalum and Maxwell. Iíve got everything from Zydeco to Salsa to Country to R&B to Jazz. The only thing youíre not going to find on my iPod is polka music.
KW: I think that covers just about everything. Thanks again for the interview, Roland.
RM: Weíre good. I appreciate it.
To order Roland Martinís books, Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith and A Black Manís View of America, visit: