Martin taught a generation how to be journalists
I imagine that all over the country right now there are journalists like me, trying to figure out how to put into words what I am also struggling to write. A woman who influenced a generation of West Virginia University journalism students left us earlier this month. To those of us who have spent our years since graduation trying to be the person she told us we could be, it came as a bit of a shock.
Back when WVU had the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism (it is now the College of Media), Chris Martin was a professor, director of the undergraduate writing program, news editorial sequence chair and finally dean from 1997-2003. She spent almost 25 years at WVU teaching people how to be reporters and writers, how to ask questions — for many of us, how to be newspaper people. She talked to us about her years as a “cub reporter” in a way that made me see for the first time there were others who believed as much in the importance of doing this job right as my dad did. For me, that was a big deal.
I have a feeling everyone who heard the news of her passing thought instantly of some occasion on which it seemed as though Martin was treating them like the only student in the school. One of those moments came for me on the day she took me aside and shared with me tips — not about reporting, but about how to dress for work when you are tall and have arms that make all long-sleeved shirts 3/4 length. (She was tall, too, and could see my struggle.)
Seems like a little thing, doesn’t it? But she was such a good journalist she had that kind of eye for important detail with everyone. And in her role as an educator, she used it to help a lot of people.
She is the reason many of us got to learn from the late George Esper, an Associated Press special correspondent who worked in the AP’s Saigon bureau — and continued working as that city fell. He stayed, and covered the aftermath of the war. Martin convinced him to come back (he was a WVU grad) to teach journalism students in a way that no purely academic professor could touch.
She brought other friends to teach us, too. Colleagues who were not academics, but who she knew had something valuable to pass along.
She wasn’t one to crave the spotlight, but she certainly encouraged us all to shine.
Still today I count many of my fellow P.I. Reed grads from those years as my friends — some of them dear friends — because that is the kind of school she created.
It is so important to know someone believes in you. She did. She believed in all of us. What she was sending us out into the world to do was important and she trusted us with it.
I was so sorry to hear that she is gone. But, then again, she’s not really. Not when we still have work to do.
Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org