For the fifth year in a row, a student from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism has been awarded a fellowship from the White House Correspondents’ Association in Washington, D.C.

Marcos Martinez was chosen for the honor on the strength of his investigative reporting with news organizations Grupo Reforma and Grupo Expansión/CNN México, as well as with Anabel Hernández at the Investigative Reporting Program at the J-School. The fellowship included an invitation to the annual dinner, which brings together politicians, journalists and celebrities in Washington., and a $5,000 tuition grant.

Martinez said he was also pleased to spend a few minutes in conversation with President Barack Obama. At the time, Martinez and his wife — fellow J-School student Yngrid Fuentes (‘16) — were working on a project about the deaths of journalists in Mexico.

“The first thing that came to mind,” Martinez said, “Was to tell him that freedom of speech in Mexico is being attacked, that we’ve seen increasing attacks on the press, and that the U.S. needs to pay more attention to this issue.”

Martinez also met U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The dinner wasn’t all serious for Martinez. He also had the chance to meet, talk to, and take selfies with A-list celebrities. One was actor Will Smith.

“I remembered seeing Will Smith on Mexican television doing promotion for a movie,” Martinez recounted, “I said ‘I know you speak Spanish,’ and he started speaking Spanish to me.”

Martinez, born and raised in northern Mexico, witnessed government and private corruption in his everyday life, which inspired him to become an investigative journalist. After finishing his B.A. at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo in León, Monterrey, Mexico, he reported for Grupo Reforma, and went on to report for Grupo Expansión/CNN México. Since starting at UC Berkeley’s J-School, Martinez has freelanced for Univision and interned with The San Francisco Chronicle.

This summer, he’s on an investigative reporting fellowship at Univision’s NewsPort headquarters in Miami, researching stories that range from the rise of Donald Trump to the Orlando nightclub shooting.

Few large organizations have reporters dedicated to covering the Latino community and immigration the way that Univision does, Martinez said. “It is a privilege to be at this company that is committed to covering those issues and to speak directly to the Hispanic community in their native language.”

Martinez has also received the Carlos M. Castañeda Journalism Scholarship, which is awarded to an exceptional Spanish-speaking journalist and graduate student. Cuban-born Carlos Mauricio Castañeda was the longtime editor of El Nuevo Herald, The Miami Herald’s Spanish-language sister paper. He died in 2002.

El Nuevo Herald is famous for, among other things, its investigative journalism. It’s a passion Martinez shares.

One story from his early days in Mexico sticks out in his mind. The federal government had delivered roofs to the municipal government, intended for the homes of the area’s poorest populations. But the roofs were never delivered to the poor communities, Martinez said. Instead, they were abandoned, left in a parking lot for months.

He tracked down the roofs and broke the story of their whereabouts. In the end, the federal government took the roofs back, and the municipal government was compelled to replace them and deliver them to the intended recipients.

Martinez said stories like this are at the core of investigative reporting: exposing a problem and forcing a solution.

“Investigative reporting is vital to any society,” Martinez said, “since its main purpose is to uncover and shed light on issues that the powerful want to keep hidden from the public eye.”

By Sam-Omar Hall (‘17)