Rachel Martin, the 2019 Alison Harrison Goodyear ’29 Fellow, has achieved the pinnacle of success in radio journalism as co-host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, one of its flagship programs, heard by nearly 15 million listeners weekly. Reflecting on her career before the entire Foxcroft community and a score of visitors in the Audrey Bruce Currier Library last Thursday, she dismissed any notion that it came easy, that there is a linear path that she took from there to here. Her first full-time, paying job in journalism, she noted, did not come until she was 33!
After graduating from college, Rachel thought about becoming a lawyer, like her dad. He told her to talk to some lawyers before deciding, so off she went to do informational interviews with as many lawyers as would talk to her. “If there is literally anything
else in the world you are curious about doing,” one of them told her, “go try that thing first, and then maybe come back to law school.”
Rachel had enjoyed the process of interviewing all these lawyers, and so, taking his advice, she began to explore journalism, which led to an internship at NPR in San Francisco.
“After several months, I just thought, I would keep doing this for free,” she said. “The excitement about being able to brandish a microphone in front of someone you’ve never met before and ask them really intimate questions about their life, is a total high. It’s a rush!”
Rachel had found her passion, but she had to take part-time jobs to support it. Then 9/11 happened. She found herself looking more outward at the world, and rethought her direction. She went to Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, considering a career shift to the United Nations or government.
After an internship, though, Rachel returned to journalism. “It was still a rush to me. But I wanted to now have a focus on the world, and I wanted to tell big stories and go places,” she said.
She created her own graduate school internship, entitled “Freelance Journalism in Afghanistan,” and went abroad. Although she loved being a foreign correspondent, Rachel returned to the U.S. when her mother fell ill. Then NPR offered her a real, fulltime job, in Baghdad, but she turned it down because of her mom’s illness. Rachel thought that door was closed forever — then NPR called again with a position in Berlin. Would that be more palatable? You bet! Rachel finally had a full-time, paying job in radio.
“I lived on a lot of couches, had to go home a couple of times,” Rachel said of her journey. “Recognize that as a privilege when you do have a safety net to fall back on. So, don’t take it for granted that you have someplace to fall and regroup.”
As the mythical straight career path disintegrated and students began to realize that their career paths might meander or stall, as hers had, Rachel encouraged them to embrace the detours. You never know who you might meet, someone who opens a door for you later or passes along a nugget of advice, or what challenge along the way might nudge you in an unexpected direction, she noted.
“There are a lot of ways to make a living,” Rachel reminded the girls. “If you can find a thing that just suits you — you’re not going to love it every day — but if you can find a thing that makes you feel like you’re contributing, that you feel good about what you are putting into the world, it will get you through the tough days.”
Rachel then pivoted to a discussion about journalism today and the importance of monitoring bias. “It’s absurd to think that journalists are not biased. The only way we can work through that is to be aware of it, and take it into account in everything we do,” she said. “In the stories we select, in the people we choose to interview, in the questions we ask. You need other people to help check you on that.”
Diversity among the people who are telling the stories is key, she said. “You need people with different racial backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, geography. You need men. You need women. You need queer people who are not represented the way they should be in mainstream media.”
Rachel urged students, as consumers of the news, to do their part by avoiding a feedback loop of news and information and challenging themselves to read other points of view. “You don’t have to go alone,” she said. “Take a friend with you!”
Thoroughly engaged, the students peppered Rachel with questions through the rest of the Library session and at lunch, which she spent with about 20 students — several of whom may embark on their own zigzagging paths toward careers in journalism, or something else entirely.
The Alison Harrison Goodyear ’29 Fellows Program, offered through the generosity of her family and friends, brings distinguished speakers to Foxcroft to deliver a keynote address and conduct seminars with students. During its 49-year history, the program has presented such remarkable voices as Maya Angelou, James Baker III, Sally Ride, Barbara Walters, and most recently, Jennifer Pharr Davis and Michelle Poler.