How to use a multimedia journalism master’s for good

Sommer Martin holds a film clapper
After completing her master’s degree in multimedia journalism at the School of Journalism and Communication in 2017, Sommer Martin launched a horror film production company, Sommer Camp Productions. She tells overlooked stories with an emphasis on Black, Indigenous, people of color and womxn (identifying) characters. Photos courtesy of Sommer Martin.

Few people are lucky enough to have a day job or a side gig that allows them to accomplish good in the community while living out their creative dreams. Sommer Martin ’17, a graduate of the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s (SOJC) Multimedia Journalism Master’s (MMJ) program, has both.

Martin is the communication director for the Black Business Association of Oregon (BBAO), an economic development organization that promotes sustainable economic equity across the state. It’s a new association that helps Black-owned businesses grow, matches companies with qualified Black employees and recruits Black businesses to Oregon.

She is also the founder of Sommer Camp Productions, a movie production company that tells overlooked stories, with Oregon and horror as the common backdrop. Her productions focus on stories about Black, Indigenous, communities of color and womxn (identifying) characters. The most recent project Sommer Camp Productions created, “Swipe Left,” tells the story of a single Black woman meeting a man through a dating app, despite red flags.

We caught up with Martin and asked her a few questions about her two jobs and how her time at the SOJC set her up for success in her career.

looking over the shoulder of a person holding a script and a handheld film monitor
On the set of “Swipe Left,” Sommer Martin ’17 yells “action” and watches an actress walk into the shot through a wireless directors monitor. “Swipe Left” is Martin’s short film about a single Black woman who ignores all the red flags and decides to meet with a man she thinks is the one.

What was your inspiration to get into communication?

I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I was obsessed with Oprah Winfrey as a teen, and upon graduation from Jefferson High School, I moved to Nashville to attend Tennessee State University to follow in her footsteps. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and theater with an emphasis in radio, TV and film. I returned home after a few years to attend the University of Oregon at Portland, where I received my master’s in multimedia journalism.

Where are you working now?

I am the communication director for the Black Business Association of Oregon. I’ve been building the communication department from the ground up because this is a very new organization. I’ve had to establish relationships with people and introduce myself to a lot of people in the communications world here. Every day is super different — one day we’re on the radio, one day we’re on the news, another day we’re in the newspaper.

What I love about my job is that it's meaningful work. I am not going through the motions of clocking in or out. Everything I have done, am doing and want to do in my role at the association is to ensure that Black business owners in Oregon have the information needed to elevate their businesses by utilizing our services. 

What other jobs in your career have prepared you for this role?

That’s easy: the Portland Business Alliance! At the alliance, I was the director of downtown marketing. Even though the Black Business Association of Oregon is an economic development organization, not a chamber of commerce, many of the assignments under my contract were similar. It was an easy transition of work, and I still work closely with most of the people I met and worked with before.

Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree?

Initially, I wanted to pursue my master’s after witnessing the coverage of Ferguson [Missouri protests in 2014]. Then, I wanted to write for Vogue by the end of my first term. By the second year, I wanted to be an ethnographic documentarian. After I graduated, I decided I wanted to pursue horror filmmaking. I now have a production company, Sommer Camp. The courses offered within the program exposed me to so many things and inspired me to think outside of the box.

Sommer Martin's team films a movie beside the Willamette River in downtown Portland, Oregon
Sommer Martin ’17 and her Sommer Camp Productions team on set shooting the short film “Swipe Left.” She was inspired to create a production company and make films as a student in the School of Journalism and Communication’s Multimedia Journalism Master’s program.

How did getting your master’s in multimedia journalism from SOJC Portland help your career?

I was exposed to many types of storytelling within the MMJ program, which helped me in my career. I feel a certain level of comfort taking on long-form written assignments, interviewing people in the community, knowing how to gather information and having a sharp eye for engaging content that people want to know.

And now, when I write for my job and for my production company, the MMJ program has really helped me form a story. [Program director] Wes Pope used to use some sort of analogy: “Here’s the donut, but now let’s look at the donut hole.” The little details are what make the story, and now when I’m working on these projects, I’m thinking a lot about that.

Who had the most influence on you at the SOJC?

My favorite professor would be a tie between Mike Fancher (ethics) and Peter Laufer (writing) because they are opposite sides of the same coin.

I loved Mike's teaching style and looked forward to taking his class, and I didn't mind giving up my weekends for the course. His style encouraged deep thinking about how things are perceived in the media, and he asked open-ended questions that helped us connect as a class.

Now, Peter, for lack of better words, was a likable jerk. He would give you the greatest compliment, and in the same breath, tell you how much your assignment sucked in a way that would make you laugh. We never knew what we were in for when class started. Would he send us on a wild goose chase in downtown Portland or give us some outrageous lecture on turtles?

To this day, they both hold a special place in my core memories of the MMJ program.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? Or what advice do you have for current students?

Don't go into the MMJ program holding on to what you think you want to do. Just let go and see if something catches your attention, because it will. Find people who have already gone through the program and have them advise you. Lastly, be brave and stand up for yourself. Only some ideas you have will be encouraged, but just because a professor or your classmates may not see your vision for your assignment, that doesn't mean it's not good. Make them believers.

What will we be seeing from you next?

Great question! I am looking forward to making the Black Business Association of Oregon a household name throughout the state of Oregon. When not doing that, I plan on filming my next horror film under my production company, Sommer Camp Productions. We’re about to start fundraising again in the fall, and I’m shooting a promotional video about the organization and what I want to do going forward. The first project, we were just kind of getting our feet wet and going through learning curves. This time, I’m reintroducing myself in the organization, the company and what we want to do for our next project.

—By Caitlin Crowley, class of 24, and Jane Glazer, class of 24

Caitlin Crowley, class of 24, is a student in the Multimedia Journalism Master’s program on the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s Portland campus. She is a political-scientist-turned-journalist who uses her experience working on political campaigns to better inform her reporting about underserved communities. Her prior work includes research into hate-crime reporting rates and how building trust within marginalized communities can create safer neighborhoods for all.

Jane Glazer, class of ’24, received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 2022. She joined the Multimedia Journalism Master’s program in Portland to sharpen her production and storytelling skills.