Journalism Grad Communicates on a Whole New Level

by Kalie Harris and Austin White,

Photo courtesy Humberto Martinez




Humberto Martinez, a 2008 Texas Tech University journalism graduate, has discovered the benefit of using social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter through his time as a Hearst Fellow working at newspapers around the country.

Martinez said social networking is a new wave of reporter-reader communication that provides instant gratification and feedback, and ultimately helps produce better and more interesting stories.

The Hearst Fellowship is a prestigious two-year program that the Hearst family of newspapers, one of the oldest in the country, puts on each year for four journalism graduates from across the country.

The Fellows participate in a rotation among Hearst newspapers, working in various sizes and types of markets and learning the ins and outs of the media. Hearst Newspapers owns 15 daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Albany Times Union and San Antonio Express-News.

Texas Tech journalism department chair Randy Reddick, a former professor of Martinez’s, said the Hearst Fellowship is the most sought-after journalism fellowship in the United States. He said the opportunity puts the Fellows on the fast-track toward management and helps them in a profession that is extremely competitive.

Martinez, a Houston native, said he had the opportunity to work for the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise before going to Albany, and eventually Seattle, Wash., where he works for the country’s first online-only newspaper, Seattle PI.

Martinez said he decided to try for a Hearst Fellowship during the last semester of his senior year at Texas Tech. While living what he describes as the busiest month of his life -- finishing up dual degrees in journalism and photo communications, working as a photographer for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, working as an editor for a student publication and working on internships, Martinez applied for the fellowship, something he had heard about while in high school.

Robert Wernsman, one of Martinez’s professors at Texas Tech who wrote a letter of recommendation for the fellowship, said that was one of the things that stood out to him most was that Martinez had decided early on to be a journalist, and that dedication really showed with his work.

“In the letter of recommendation, I describe him as a deeply thoughtful individual who shows maturity beyond his age, dependability, and an intense interest in learning more,” said Wernsman. “I was confident that no Hearst Fellow would outperform him in desire, interest, or aptitude.”

Martinez said Wernsman’s letter undoubtedly had an impact on him being one of four chosen out of the thousands who applied.

Martinez said that the Hearst Fellowship is a fast way to get experience and put a young journalist on the path for a great career. He said by being moved to so many different places, he experienced different news and audiences in each location.

Throughout the moving and all of the changes, Martinez said his experiences at Texas Tech helped prepare him for whatever was thrown his way.

“There have been times I was really kind of terrified, tackling all of these new things at once,” Martinez said. “But I knew I had been taught well and had all the background I needed, so it really just came down to me believing that the people who were telling me I could do it were right.”

Martinez said one of the best things about the fellowship was the opportunity to start in Beaumont, Texas, which is an hour east of his hometown. He said being close to home made the transition from college student to working adult much easier, thanks to weekends with family.

While writing in Beaumont, Martinez said he was able to develop his writing in a way he had not been able to do through his college career. He said the combination of fast-paced deadlines and a traditional print paper really established more core writing skills that he had learned about, but not necessarily had the opportunity to practice.

After eight months at the Beaumont paper, Martinez got word that he was being transferred to upstate New York, and admitted he had trouble imagining a bigger transition than the one he made from a small East Texas town to the Albany Times Union.

“Humberto is the only interesting reporter, in my opinion, who really tells the story.” — Jerod Foster

While in New York, Martinez was moved from the feature writing, which he was doing in Beaumont, to more breaking news and the crime beat. Martinez also had a hand in transitioning Albany to a more social-media-friendly paper, by developing their Twitter brand.

Martinez described the paper as having a very loyal following of locals, and it utilized a combination of both print and online news. He said this exposure made for a smooth transition to his current position to the online-only newspaper in Seattle, the seattlepi.com.

While in Albany, Martinez said he also gave lectures to the entire newsroom about social media and how a reporter could benefit from its use. He said reporters are better able to connect with their audience on a more personal level through social media networks, and he has even received leads for stories from followers.

Martinez said that, in his experience over the last 18 months, most newspapers fail to take advantage of social media like they should. But, he said, thanks to a former Hearst Fellow, that is not the case in Seattle.

Having someone there already who has spearheaded the social media drive, Martinez was able to become part of that team and seamlessly flow into his role as a blogger, covering the popular Seattle nightlife.

“Seattlepi.com is so far ahead of any other newspaper I’ve worked at in terms of communicating with readers more directly,” Martinez said. “The use of Twitter and blogs alone give another voice to writing that traditional print doesn’t.”

Martinez said he is able to put more of his own personality into his work, which is useful when talking about the bustling Seattle nightlife and everything that goes along with it.

On top of the use of social media for reporting, Martinez also has a personal Twitter account that he uses to keep in contact with people from all of the different places he has lived and worked, and his followers include Texas Tech professors.

Photography instructor Jerod Foster is one of those followers, and said Martinez is the only reporter he feels the need to hear from on a more personal level.

“Humberto is the only interesting reporter, in my opinion,” Foster said, “who really tells the story.”

While Martinez said he continues to keep in contact with many of his professors and employers from the past, he is continually looking forward and enjoying every opportunity that the Hearst Fellowship offers.

“When I’m done with the fellowship in August, and enter the grand nebulous, dark unknown of the real world,” said Martinez, with a laugh, “I hope to continue being able to work with Hearst. It has been such a great experience so far. I can’t imagine my life going any other way.” mc




Kalie Harris is a senior public relations major from Monahans, Texas. Austin White is a junior public relations major from Weatherford, Texas.