MLK50: Justice Through Journalism has selected Adrienne Johnson Martin to be its first executive editor as the award-winning nonprofit newsroom enters a new phase of expansion. Johnson Martin brings her years of experience as an editor and reporter at major publications to the full-time role beginning Sept. 7. 

“The strength of Adrienne’s ideas and her passion for justice made her the perfect choice for this job,” said Wendi C. Thomas, founding editor and publisher of MLK50.

MLK50’s Executive Editor Adrienne Johnson Martin

“As we move from startup mode to sustainability, it’s essential that our leadership bench has depth and that’s what Adrienne brings. I am elated that she’s joining the team and I look forward to building the organization together.”

Johnson Martin was most recently managing editor of Duke Magazine, Duke University’s alumni publication. Her experience includes a commitment to journalism with a social impact. She is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and has a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism. Early in her career, she spent five years as a copy editor and writer at the Los Angeles Times, where she was part of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning team for spot news for coverage of the Northridge earthquake. She joined The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1997, covering radio, television and film — winning an American Association of Sunday and Feature Writers prize — before becoming the associate features editor. At Duke Magazine, where she has worked since 2013, Johnson Martin was instrumental in expressing and carrying forward an editorial vision based on powerful storytelling, strong writing, and visual energy. She also handled day-to-day production details and was a leader in the publication’s ongoing work around diversity and inclusion. 

“Adrienne is a gifted editor with good judgment, rigorous standards and a strong sense of story,” said John Drescher, who was the executive editor of The News & Observer when Johnson Martin was an assistant features editor there.

“She’s also a great colleague with an uplifting personal style. The readers and staff of MLK50 will be fortunate to have her.”

As MLK50’s executive editor, Johnson Martin will help drive the organization’s efforts to expand how it incorporates its mission into every step of reporting — from how stories are conceptualized to how it engages the communities it serves. In addition to supervising news coverage and upholding editorial standards, Johnson Martin will play a key role in implementing MLK50’s editorial strategy and demonstrating its approach to equity-focused reporting as a model for the future of local news.

The COVID-19 pandemic gave Johnson Martin time to think about her personal priorities and what career trajectory would appeal to her values and skills. MLK50’s executive editor search seemed serendipitous and, after discussions with Thomas, a perfect fit. Johnson Martin explained:

“I love that I’ll have the chance to be in community with a team that knows we don’t have to live in a zero-sum world and is committed to telling the stories of those on the losing side of that paradigm—these are journalists who use their talents in service of justice. What’s better than that?”

“The executive editor job is an incredible opportunity for me to support Wendi’s vision and to ensure that MLK50 becomes embraced by and deeply embedded in the Memphis community.”

MLK50 was established in 2017 with the mission to report on the intersection of poverty, power and policy and to bear witness to movement making and lived experiences. Since its founding, MLK50’s journalists have won several national and regional awards, including the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting. The organization has partnered with national outlets such as ProPublica and The Marshall Project. MLK50 is also a partner newsroom with Report for America. 

Johnson Martin joins the MLK50 team on the heels of other staff changes as the organization begins to grow beyond its fledgling phase into long-term viability. Her hire brings the number of editorial employees to six full-time and two part-time. Interim managing editor Peggy McKenzie will remain with MLK50 in a part-time capacity, and Andrea Morales, who has worked with MLK50 since its inception, recently joined the organization as a full-time visuals editor. 


This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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