“Knowing The Laws About Access To Government Buildings Is An Invaluable Weapon” With Stephanie Martinez

“Know the laws: You will often be sent to cover fires, murders or other hectic situations in public places. Many times someone will try to deny you access to a certain area or access to information. As a reporter, you have more freedoms and protections than the regular citizen. Arm yourself by knowing exactly what you can and cannot do. Knowing the laws about public spaces, access to information and government buildings is an invaluable weapon.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Martinez, a Los Angeles-based TV news reporter and digital content creator for News Quickies. www.stephmnews.com

What is your “backstory”?

I was born in Barranquilla, a small coastal town in Colombia. I moved to the United States when I was 16. I have always had a passion for storytelling and current events. While completing my undergraduate program at George Mason University, I took a class where I had to shoot, write and edit a story. I decided to the story of my stepfather’s father, Alberto Jubiz Hazbum. Jubiz Hazbúm was a Colombian chemical engineer of Lebanese descent who was wrongfully accused of one of the most significant crimes in Colombia’s history, the assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento in 1989.

Creating this story opened my eyes to a whole world of storytelling. I was passionate about it and that is all I did after that. I went on to get a masters in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland in College Park. I lived for one year in North Carolina working as an anchor and multimedia journalist at Univision. I got nominated for four Emmys for my work with them. I moved approximately a year and a half ago to Los Angeles where I finally get to enjoy the sun most of the year.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Everyday is an interesting day for me. Between the rush, meeting the people, technical difficulties… they all turn out to be something!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

My latest project is “News Quickies”, short, fun and casual video explanations of today’s top headlines. I tend to say that I have a “bicultural brain” which, at times, makes my job harder. It took a lot of convincing and inner pep talks to be ok with it and embrace it. I was inspired to show others that if I can understand the complicated world of the news, anyone can. Topics like politics, law, economy can be easily grasped if explained the right way for the audience you’re talking to. No one said news can’t be fun so through News Quickies I’m integrating news, lifestyle and fun into one big happy family.

Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Since I lived and worked in the DC Metro Area, I would see more politicians than anything else. I believe Bill Clinton was the most “famous” of the politicians I met. I have to say that I’ve been in LA for more than a year and I have yet to see anyone famous! I think they might be running away from me.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in journalism? Carry a lot of peanuts!

On a more serious note, I think that those who are considering a career in journalism need to know that it is a tough job but very rewarding. If you’re in it for the “glamorous reporter life”, it will not go well. You need to be in it for the right reasons, because you love speaking on behalf of the community, on behalf of those who would never have the opportunity to tell their stories otherwise.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I did an in-depth piece that prompted an HSI investigation in Las Vegas along with investigators in Houston. It was a group of people spread all around the country who were posing as a Native American tribe. This self-acclaimed tribe (not recognized by the government) was selling tribal memberships to undocumented immigrants under the idea that their sovereignty would protect them from deportation. Memberships range from $3,500 to $10,000. Just in Texas there are more than 70 victims. There are more more in North Carolina, New York and other states. I went to Houston and interviewed several of them, got the fake citizenship documents, workbooks they had to study, addresses related to the scheme, the office that was mailing the IDs and other important information. I started inquiring with the FBI and ended up speaking with a Las Vegas investigator who I gave all of my evidence to. I also spoke with another investigator from Texas who had been looking into the scheme on his own time. The arrests started happening soon after the story aired. As of now, three of them have been arrested and are currently on trial.

Another case that really filled me with joy was the case of David. At the time, he was a 12-year-old boy that had crossed the Mexican border alone. He was being abused in his home country and decided to come to the US and look for his mother who was living in Washington DC. I followed his case for several months and found a non-profit organization willing to take his case and figure out his immigration status. At the time, he would go to school but would occasionally ran away and was suffering with depression. It was a difficult situation. Today, he is a great kid, has a job and excels in school. Knowing that I made a difference in his life is an incredible feeling. It is more incredible when I receive his messages of how thankful he is.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

There is one thing that makes my blood boil and that is when someone takes advantage of another person because of their situation. For instance, undocumented immigrants who will not speak up against any abuse because of their legal status or any other reason that forces them to self-censor. It gives me pleasure to extend my platform so anyone that needs it can tell their stories. There are SO MANY things we are oblivious to and being able to shed light on those injustices is what really drives me.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Know the laws: You will often be sent to cover fires, murders or other hectic situations in public places. Many times someone will try to deny you access to a certain area or access to information. As a reporter, you have more freedoms and protections than the regular citizen. Arm yourself by knowing exactly what you can and cannot do. Knowing the laws about public spaces, access to information and government buildings is an invaluable weapon.
  2. Be the snack king or queen: I wasn’t kidding with carrying peanuts. There are days that there is simply no time to eat so the more snacks you have, the better!
  3. Always have a “yes I can” attitude. I am not a News Director but I have a feeling that they love it when reporters simply get-it-done. You will frequently go to a site of a story with just a lead and you have to figure it out. Be resourceful. Ask the community but don’t go around with the camera and the microphone (unless you’re doing an ambush) because that intimidates people. Be very approachable, smile and I’m sure you’ll be able to get-it-done.
  4. For females: If you’re on the field, ditch the high heels: One of my first stories was covering Chancellor of DC Public Schools Michelle Rhee. There was a scandal over test scores irregularities and all of us reporters were waiting outside the officer for her. Well she slipped through the crack but someone noticed she was leaving the building from the side. We all started running down the stairs like a herd of buffaloes. I’m talking about many flights of smooth, slippery stairs. I was very close to rolling down. My feet were killing me and the cables between the camera and my microphone were getting tangled. It could have ended with me in the the ER so since then, I carry my pair of flats in a bag.
  5. On breaking news, you might not have much information about what you are covering. Research time will be minimal and stress levels will be high. Focus on the “who, what, when, where, why and how”. Think about what’s important to your audience and try to get as much VERIFIABLE information as possible. Never ever assume even if it seems logical to you. If you don’t know something, it’s ok to say just that. Otherwise you can get in big trouble.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Coincidently, today I posted just that on my Instagram! Here’s what I had to say: I’ve always felt like I have two personalities: social Steph and reporter Steph. They are VERY different. Reporter Steph is very serious, persistent (maybe too much)… as in “I.WILL.GET.YOU as I squint my eyes at you” reporter Steph. Social Steph is…well …not like that. Her favorite color is pink, she dreams with having a mint scooter, she’s naive at times and spills coffee everywhere (as in all over myself). If you don’t see a coffee stain on me that means I’m dead. So when someone meets social Steph and later meets reporter Steph, they are somewhat confused. For one reason or another, I always kept them separate. I thought that bringing both out could not be good for my credibility. Cue Tamron Hall. She was SO bubbly but so serious when she had to be. She would show her naive side but then host a true crime show. Her bubbly side did not take away an ounce of credibility from her serious work. I realized that it’s OK to be both. No one is going to judge you and if they do, it’s their problem not yours. So when I thought about News Quickies, I thought about those two Stephs. About being serious but also showing my not-so-serious side. Reporter Steph shimmying as I tell the news. And let me tell you, I’m going to be one tenacious shimmy-ing news reporter!

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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.