This year has brought unimaginable changes, but the ‘#RolandMartinUnfiltered’ daily digital show has emerged as a constant and influential voice on the media landscape.
#RolandMartinUnfiltered provides live news and information from an unapologetically Black perspective five days a week, and streams content seven days a week. Celebrating its second anniversary, the show has carved its niche as a go-to source for interviews with key newsmakers and influencers. In depth discussion of topics across a variety of fields, including politics, education, health, entertainment, sports, African American issues and culture has been at the forefront of the #RolandMartinUnfiltered mission since day one. When breaking news happens or big shifts in the culture occur, Martin has been there to document, explain and highlight those aspects of the story that most impact the African American community.
Sadly, when Black cultural icons have departed this life, such as Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant, Congressman John Lewis, Earl Graves, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Leah Chase and Bill Withers, #RolandMartinUnfiltered has drawn attention to their passage and honored their contributions to American society.
While social justice issues, calls for policing reform, widespread unrest and a global pandemic have rocked the nation, Roland Martin has been on the scene examining the story from every angle and helping his audience interpret the impact on their world.
Celebrities like T.I. Harris, Aunjanue Ellis, John Legend, Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Sherrie Shepherd, Will Packer and more have joined the show for insightful conversations on breaking news and hot topics, though Martin doesn’t just focus on landing the ‘big’ interviews. #RolandMartinUnfiltered also provides a platform for people on the frontlines such as grassroots activists, essential workers, blue-collar professionals, journalists of color and other unsung heroes. For Roland and his team, it’s all about the story or angle that mainstream media overlooks when it comes to issues and concerns facing the Black community.
“News One Now ended at the end of 2017, and I had already started driving content on the digital platform. I knew what I was going to do and how I was going to do it,” said Martin, a three-time author and contributor to numerous books. “I knew that Tom Joyner was retiring at the end of December 2019. I said then: ‘We need to have a significant daily news platform speaking to the issues and concerns of African Americans that’s not traditional media, cable or broadcast.’ That’s why I launched the show.”
As COVID-19 hit, #RolandMartinUnfiltered was already firmly entrenched in the daily digital space and used the platform to feature more than 80 Black infectious disease professionals, epidemiologists and other medical experts on the show. Every major Democratic presidential candidate made it a point to appear on his show, some multiple times, including Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris.
While others in the media struggled with adjusting to state-mandated quarantines, shut inside in their homes trying to figure out how to produce their segments remotely, #RolandMartinUnfiltered was busy dishing out headlines on the health disparity facing Black communities around the country.
“You had all these folks trying to figure it out; how to broadcast from their homes,” said Martin, who founded the first Black news source audio podcast in 2005 when he ran the Chicago Defender, and a video podcast in 2006. “News folks, entertainers, preachers and many others were blowing up my phone up with questions about what microphone to buy; what camera to buy; what should we do? And I was already there. We were in a prime position to keep doing what we are doing.”
Regarding the motivation behind developing #RolandMartinUnfiltered, the Texas A&M University Journalism Hall of Honor inductee and recipient of more than 30 awards for journalistic excellence noted, “Launching the show in 2018 was all about following the vision to deliver news and information to African Americans during the 2020 Election. That was by design, not happenstance.” He added, “When we launched in 2018, we did collectively 9.3 million views our first month. In July we did 30 million views.” Now with nearly 620,000 subscribers on YouTube, they launched with 150,000 in 2018, #RolandMartinUnfiltered’s exponential growth is a direct reflection of efforts to super serve its audience with content and information focused on their unique concerns as Black Americans.
The bricks laid to build the road to #RolandMartinUnfiltered stretch over a nearly 25-year career. From 1993-95, he worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which he cites as one of the first daily newspapers to go online. “I went and talked to the executives there, I saw what they were doing,” said Martin, who was the founding editor of Tom Joyner’s <BlackAmericaWeb.com> from 2001-03. “I went to a communications high school and I have been a multimedia journalist my entire career. This was not foreign for to me. I saw a long time ago where the industry was headed.”
On the role of the Black Press, the four-time NAACP Award winner shares deep concerns. He points to the demise of many Black outlets such as Ebony and JET, as well as mainstream media’s lack of deep coverage on issues facing African Americans and its narrow threshold of providing information from a Black perspective. “As an African American, I’m really afraid of the future of Black media,” said Martin, who has worked for and with Black media staples such as Essence, Ebony, TV One, Savoy magazine, and was managing editor of three Black newspapers. “There’s a dearth of news targeted to our community. Where are we going to get our information from?”
Attempting to fill this gap, the #RolandMartinUnfiltered daily digital show features more than 10 hours of live, timely news content weekly. And this is only its second year. Martin, who also spent six years as a CNN contributor said: “You’re going to see a further explosion in this space on the digital side. This is only the beginning. This show represents a very clear and undeniable focus on Black lives.”
In the spirit of true trailblazers, as Roland marks the second anniversary of #RolandMartinUnfiltered, he celebrates the careers of other journalists and news commentators he has helped cultivate over the years. The list includes noteworthy news figures and popular pundits such as April Ryan, Angela Rye, Nia Malika Henderson, Laura Coates, Gianno Caldwell, Paris Dennard, Shermichael Singleton, Monique Pressley, Paul Butler and many, many more. Van Jones once described him as “the Spike Lee of media,” because of his mentorship, exposure to opportunity for emerging talent and relentless support of the next generation.
Looking ahead to the future, Martin said: “I’ve used my platform to greatly diversify mainstream media and will continue to do so”—because that is what pioneers do.