Q&A with A&E Editor Jillian Cohan Martin

I recently did a Q&A with Jillian Cohan Martin who is the Arts and Entertainment editor for the Oregonian. I hope to go into pop culture writing one day so I really enjoyed learning from her!

Q: How long have you been apart of the staff at the Oregonian?

A:I have been on staff for nearly a year. My previous job was at the Houston Chronicle.

Q: What’s been your most memorable moment in professional journalism?

A: In Houston I’d just launched the energy-business website when the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened. We covered the breaking news from the oil spill — and the after effects on the Gulf Coast — for months, producing top-flight stories and multimedia packages that won numerous state and national awards. Beyond that recognition, though, I loved the camaraderie I developed with the other web producers, the reporters and designers as we worked to create something new.

Q: What has been your journey through  professional journalism?

A: It’s been a winding path! I studied English as an undergrad, but thought I’d go be a book editor in New York after graduation. I’m a small-town girl from Vermont, though, and I decided Boston was a better fit for me. I started out there working for a start-up web publication, then quickly moved on to become the managing editor at an alternative magazine for teen girls. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) was a sportswriter and had been working at a website that downsized, so he took a job with a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania. I followed him there and found work writing for the alumni magazine at a small college. A few years later, I decided to go to grad school for journalism and took a year to get my master’s at Syracuse University. Afterward, he and I moved to Kansas where we both worked for the Wichita Eagle, he in sports and me as a features writer, education reporter, and news editor. The years in Kansas gave me a lot of flexibility in my skill set, since I had exposure to entertainment writing, general features, breaking news and editing and assigning special projects. When my husband was recruited to the Houston Chronicle, that flexibility meant I could find work in the business section at the Chron, where I worked as a web producer and launched a niche website devoted to news about the energy industry, one of the primary employers in that part of Texas. A few years later, an editor at The Oregonian who my husband met during a fellowship in New York mentioned that the paper had several openings and we decided to make the move out here. I’m enjoying being back in the features department, since it’s where I got my start in newspapers.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer and what steps did you take to make that happen?

 A: I can remember wanting to be a writer as early as grade school — I wrote and illustrated a fairy tale about a girl named Opal who had numerous adventures — but I didn’t take any formal steps in that direction until much later. I didn’t work on my high school or college papers. My first paid writing job was the summer after I finished undergrad; it was a series of travel stories for my hometown paper and I was SO nervous when I got the assignment. Over time I became more confident as a writer and reporter, thanks to some excellent editors and mentors who helped me grow. Now that I’ve been an editor for a half dozen years, I miss some of the creativity that comes with being a writer. I get to use other skills, though, and to collaborate with some extremely talented writers, designers and photographers so it’s worth it.

Q: What is your favorite part of being the editor of the A&E section?

A: Working with all those creative people I just mentioned! I’m happiest at work when we’re doing something unconventional, like our Best Food Carts A&E cover story last year, which we envisioned as a board game (the execution suffers on the web, but in print it was really great)http://www.oregonlive.com/dining/index.ssf/2012/08/the_best_new_food_carts_in_por.html.

Q: How many hours a week do you dedicate to writing/reporting?

A:  I’m not a reporter any longer, so most of my time is spent editing, wrangling photos and proofing pages. I do occasionally write briefs or post something to The Oregonian’s parenting blog.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring journalists or what advice did you wish someone would have given you?

A: 1) Don’t ever put the word “intern” on your resume. If you spent time in a newsroom, even unpaid, you were a reporter, a copy editor, a designer, etc. Always lead with that experience over a paid job as a waitress or in retail or as a nanny, etc.

 

2) Network with people in the business. With jobs being scarce, you’re best positioned to get a look from people who are hiring if they already have a relationship with you; many jobs are never posted publicly and end up having to be filled quickly or the window of opportunity (or rather the available funds) disappears. So get yourself on the radar and prove you’re responsible. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve corresponded with an aspiring journalist, or met someone for coffee, and after a lengthy chat they never followed up afterward, even if I asked them to send clips or pitch story ideas. There’s a reason your professor asked you to reach out to working journalists now — more than an assignment, it’s a very practical way to lay the groundwork for your future career (OK, lecture over).

Q: What is the hardest part of your current job?

A: Finding enough hours in the day! I have a toddler at home, but I’m not the type to leave work behind when I leave the office. I’m always answering work emails and thinking about stories when I’m home at night. I have made some progress at setting limits, though, especially when it’s time to put my son to bed. I make sure he gets my attention, no distractions, for at least two hours from dinner, to bath, to bed. And, thankfully, I have bosses and people I supervise who are also parents and understand when I draw the line.

 

-Caitlin Taylor

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