Tom Martin of Channel 4 News in Buffalo came into my sports journalism class this past fall to talk about his career and give us some tips. After listening to him speak, I was inspired to reach out to him myself and learn more about his role in the Buffalo sports media.
I spoke to Martin on the phone and was pleased to find out his first sports journalism endeavor was…a sports blog.
“I’ve wanted to be a sports writer since I was 8 or 9 years old.”
Martin, originally from Houston, Texas spent his time in high school blogging about the Houston Rockets. He eventually reached out to another sports blog (SB Nation) that he followed and asked for some tips on blogging.
“They offered to bring me on and let me do some editing.” Martin said. He is also credited for starting their Twitter account.
Martin’s interest in sports journalism followed him to the University of Missouri where he graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism.
“I got into broadcast because I took my first journalism course and felt like I was having the personality choked out of me.” Martin said. He believed that he could have different opportunities on air compared to pen. “I felt like I could offer more coming from who I am, in the broadcast field.”
Martin was also involved with anchoring sports on campus at Mizzou.
When it comes to being on air, Martin described how at first you think you have to talk a certain way. “Once you get one or two years into it, it just comes natural,” he said.
Martin explained how it used to sound like he was trying too hard when he spoke, but once he stopped overthinking it, he was able to be more comfortable on air.
“When it comes to asking questions, be direct. Be honest and unmerciful.”
Martin said that athletes hate when reporters dance around things, or if they feel like they’re being led into a conversation they don’t want to have.
He’s got a point here. The questions have to be asked one way or another, so instead of beating around the bush, it pays off to get right to the point. Martin advices to challenge athletes. “Don’t just ask questions they like.
But that’s the part I’ve always struggled with. How do journalists think of the good questions? To that, Martin suggests watching press conferences.
Martin told me about an interview he did when he first started reporting, where he asked a question within a question. This allowed for his interviewee to choose which question he wanted to answer.
Martin pointed out that I had made this same mistake earlier in our interview. -Hey, experience is the best way to learn isn’t it?
“If you meet enough people, who want the same thing as you, don’t forget them…”
When Martin stopped into my class, he emphasized the concept of creating contacts wherever you go. One story that really stuck with me happened while Martin was covering a local high school football game.
Friday nights in the fall are heavily dominated by high school football, so why should a routine coverage of a high school football game be anything more than routine?
Martin explained that the schools photographer, with whom he had a professional relationship, had tipped him off that Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was at the game, watching his younger brother.
So instead of moving on to the next high school to follow his Friday night routine, Martin decided to hang back and it’s a good thing he did…
Upon seeing his younger brother take a late hit out of bounds resulting in a brawl, Kelly had to be restrained on the field. Martin was able to capture the whole thing on film.
This is a prime example of being in the right place at the right time. It just goes to show that if you’re going to do something, you might as well take it seriously, because you never know what could happen.
Not only is this a matter of right-place-right-time, but also a demonstration of the importance of contacts, in this case the photographer.
“If your work is good, it’ll speak for itself and people will watch you.”
Dan Patrick, a sportscaster and radio personality for ESPN, is one of Martin’s biggest influences in the realm of sports. He admires how Patrick avoids pimping himself out like so many personalities do. Patrick is an excellent personality because he focuses on telling his subjects story instead of beefing himself up.
Along with Patrick, Martin also mentioned Boyd Huppert, reporter/storyteller for KARE 11 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. He is also known for “Land of 10,000 Stories,” a weekly story telling platform known for it’s photojournalism.
The sports broadcast field has allowed Martin to go beyond reporting on sports themselves, but on the people involved in and affected by sport. He expresses that the human interest aspect of sports are the important stories.
Martin’s favorite part about his career is when he gets to do the big feature stories. There’s an obligation to be fair to the subject as well as the truth. “You have a big responsibility to get the words right.” He said.
Just as a doctor or a lawyer has an impact on society, Martin assures that his role is just as important. “It’s my job to tell the world (or Buffalo) someone’s story.”