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A 9/11 Reporter Remembers

Matt Martinez

Supervising Senior Producer, National Public Radio

1999 BA in English


September 11, 2001 was a day that defined so many people, in so many ways. Matt Martinez was no exception. When he landed in New York City that morning—just an hour before the first plane hit the World Trade Center—he had no idea that his professional calling would solidify itself that day.

As a supervising senior producer for National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Matt had traveled to New York from his home in Washington, D.C. that day with the show's host Robert Siegel. The duo were there to report another story altogether, but as the second plane crashed into the remaining tower, they knew they were on a different mission.

"I went down to a café at the bureau and got a cup of coffee. Then, I was standing on the street, listening to the sirens, and everything was chaos," Matt says. "I knew that it was the beginning or end of my career, and it was then that I realized I could do this kind of work, and do it well."

As an undergraduate student at NAU, the budding journalist worked part-time as a reporter at KNAU. It was there where people like Cindy Carpian, a producer, taught him the basics of how to spot an important story and, then, how to tell it. He remembers a series that he helped to report about water, covered from every angle, from how it was used on the Colorado Plateau to how Native Americans used it in farming. It was in those reporting experiences that the promising journalist began to understand that with his profession comes the enormous responsibility of creating a better-informed public.

"My education at NAU taught me how to communicate clearly, form intelligent arguments, and convey thoughts in a clear, concise way," Matt says. "You're constantly making huge subjects understandable and relatable for the audience."

As a first-generation college graduate in his family, Matt appreciated the close ties he was able to forge with his professors. The small class sizes and the attention paid to students were instrumental in his ability to follow his career aspirations, he says. One professor, in particular, caught Martinez early on in his education. It was Jane Armstrong Woodman, an associate professor and adviser, who he credits for helping him develop his own style, during an introductory creative writing class.

At that time, Matt became a pro at emulating his favorite writers, but it was something that Woodman said at the end of the semester that Martinez says he's "carried around" in his career. "She told me that I needed to use my talent to find my own voice—ever since then I knew I needed to do things on my own and think for myself," he says.

And that he has, helping the world understand complex events just a little bit better, whether through his award-winning coverage of September 11th or his contributions to stories about Sudanese refugees in Portland, Maine, or making sense of the political landscape of the New Hampshire Primary. No matter where the next assignment lands him, Matt, an Arizona native, still credits his roots for his career success and encourages today's students to cherish the intimate environment of campus, as well as its gorgeous surroundings.

Matt's advice for students is to cherish their university years.