Soledad O'Brien Cover Story - Savoy Magazine by Edward Cates


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Soledad O'Brien Cover Story - Savoy Magazine by Edward Cates

  1. 1. Soledad O’Brien Anchor and Special Correspondent, CNN 2010 Top 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America Hill Harper's Book “The Conversation” SPRING 2010 $3.95
  2. 2. ENTERPRISE W Soledad O’Brien Brings Journalistic Excellence to CNN’s Black in America BY WHEN You TALK with Soledad O’Brien, it becomes instantly clear that she is as impressive in person as on TV. You also validate that she is so much more. Soledad is soulful, smart EDWARD and funny. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but seriously enough. She is comfortable C AT E S laughing hard, loud and often. She is a proud wife and mother who was worrying (the day of our interview) about her sick kids and husband at home she’s been nursing back to health. Soledad values the connections to people she has in her life and thankfully it reflects in her work as anchor and special correspondent for CNN. She grew up in Smithtown near the north shore of Long Island, New York. Soledad experienced the challenges facing a diverse family living in a town that was not. Her mother Estelle is an educator of Afro Cuban heritage and her father Edward is a mechanical engineering professor with Australian, Irish origins. With three sisters and two brothers she is the 5th of Edward and Estelle O’Brien’s family of six. “I never had a lot of angst about who I am,” Soledad reflectively shares from her office in CNN’s bustling NYC news center. “I have five brothers and sisters who all look like me and identify themselves as Black. There’s not one sibling who wrestled with it.” Soledad adds. It’s significant to note that all five of her siblings and Soledad are Harvard graduates. “When I was growing up, my Mom always told us, don’t ever let anybody tell you you’re 66 Savoy Spring 2010
  3. 3. Soledad o’Brien on location for coverage of CNN’s Black in America 2 in Hartford, Connecticut. not Black. Don’t let anybody tell you you’re not Cuban.” Soledad is a talented journalist at ease in her skin. She is one of the brightest broadcast journalists on television through hard work and unwavering focus on being the best at what she does. Soledad is a news phenom that has earned stars and bars during her storied climb up the broadcasting corporate ladder. After college she began her career in news behind the camera as an associate producer and news writer for a Boston NBC affiliate. In 1991, Soledad began a career with NBC News that lead to positions in New York and San Francisco. MSNBC showcased her talents as she anchored their weekend morning show and co-host of their award winning technology program “When I was growing up, The Site. Prior to her departure from NBC she co-anchored Weekend TODAY and was a contributing correspondent for my Mom always told us, don’t ever let anybody the weekday TODAY show and weekend editions of Nightly News. In 2003, O’Brien joined CNN and reported with the tell you you’re not Black. Don’t let teams that earned CNN a George Foster Peabody Award for their coverage of hurricane Katrina and an Alfred I. duPont Award for 2004 coverage of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami anybody tell you you’re not Cuban.” devastation. In 2007, she received the President’s Award during the 38th NAACP Image awards for her special achievements and distinguished public service. Conducts an Eminently qualified, Soledad was approached by CNN’s interview on the President of the News division to see if she’d be interested in set in orlando, serving as special correspondent for a project in development Florida at Disney with a general title of Black in America. World. “I thought this will really be interesting and certainly right up my alley in terms of things I think about and have always been interested in. CNN had been interested in providing coverage that navigates through issues of diversity. It started with us SouRCE: CNN asking what does it mean to be Black in America? With that I was sort of handed the ball to go and figure out how you turn that into a documentary.” Soledad and CNN worked to develop what may be remembered as one of the most widely televised documentary series on the contemporary Black experience in cable television history. Black in America (2008) and Black in America 2 (2009) have received close to 24 million viewers since their respective two night premieres. The documentaries have been rebroadcast to CNN’s reach of approximately 2 billion viewers worldwide. Black in America and Black in America 2 are unique because they examine the Black experience in America from a people centered perspective.“As we broke down and started doing interviews and producing the segments, we went from what makes a good story, to who makes a good story?”The production schedule for Black in America was 18 months. For many weeks Soledad and the team traveled six out of seven days a week conducting interviews with a spectrum of people sharing their unique perspective, creating the story of Black in America. A cadre of professors and experts provided commentary and staggering statistics, but most compelling were the real life stories of families struggling, succeeding and sharing with Soledad objectively guiding the search light of observation. “I think the most important thing about Black in America is that it was courageous, because we didn’t realize how brave it was,” SouRCE: CNN said Soledad. “All I thought about was doing a good job. I’m going to ask smart questions, be well prepared and do a good job.“ Soledad and CNN showed great care to report American stories featuring Black people.
  4. 4. Soledad with Malaak Compton-Rock in Jo- hannesburg, South Af- rica covering the Angel Rock Project’s Journey for Change: Empower- ing Youth Through Global Service trip in Black in America 2. Black in America examined the complexities and range of serving a life sentence for murder.“ Michael Eric Dyson was a experiences of Black women, the family and Black men. Soledad powerful story that could have been an entire hour, really. What recalls impactful moments from Black in America with the I loved about that interview is that it tackled a lot of things names, lives and people that were featured in the documentary. including skin color and incarceration.” The interview with the “Mrs. Abdullah was featured in our healthcare segment and is Dysons revealed the vulnerability and contrast of two brothers an amazing story. We were in the hospital interviewing people spanning the reality of the American Black male experience, that day and I ran into her. She held my hand and started to cry from light to brown skin and further with one a University and said she wasn’t sure I would understand. She talked about Professor and the other an incarcerated prisoner. her neighborhood in Harlem, not far from where my sister lives, “People come to me and say we’ve read your quotes and seen and how she can’t find fresh fruit near her home. She’s elderly you on TV and been affected by your intellectual contribution and not a healthy person. Her story was about the dramatic to the culture but that interview personalized you for me and struggle to get fresh fruit and vegetables that she could afford in showed a vulnerability that made me identify with you even the middle of Harlem.” more. I have Soledad to thank for that because she conducted Another impactful story Soledad sites from Black in America an aggressively insightful and powerful interview,” Dr. Dyson featured Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, acclaimed author, ordained shares, reflecting upon the impact of his Black in America minister and Georgetown University Professor of Sociology in segment with Everett and Soledad.“She didn’t skip over a jailhouse interview with his younger brother Everett Dyson contradictions and complications with my brother and me and 68 Savoy Spring 2010
  5. 5. SouRCE: CNN “Whenever I talk to young journalists I tell them, you have to get out of your own head and just focus on the interview. Don’t worry about how you look on camera. Be well read and just do a really good interview. Connect with the person.” yet she allowed the story to breath enough that the access to the spotlight,” said Dr. Perry on Soledad’s outline of suffering for so many Black families became contribution to the series.“There are millions of people, luminous under her careful and skillful journalistic hand both Black and White who had their first exposure to and the story emerged as powerfully as it did. Soledad is the Black community through the broadcast of Black one of the most brilliant journalists we have working in in America. It is the (modern day) equivalent of Roots America today. Her ability to bring lucidity and clarity impact on the community through television.” to often muddled and complex issues is remarkable Production for Black in America 3 is underway along and her profound humanity is edifying. The long form with another look at the Latino in America series. CNN journalistic series like Black in America allows her to tell has also formed a news unit called “In America” that a provocative story through a sharp prism that illumines Soledad will be a part of. “We are at a time when we can the landscape that is overcrowded with cliché phrases ask some really provocative questions about race. My and trivial approaches.” goal is to do compelling stories about people in America.” Black in America 2 dedicated two shows to the Soledad is a member of the National Association examination of Tomorrow’s leaders and Today’s Pioneers of Black Journalists and the National Association of SouRCE: CNN impacting Black communities in the US and abroad. Hispanic Journalists and volunteers time to mentor Soledad followed a group of 30 Bushwick, Brooklyn aspiring journalists of color by sharing her winning youth selected to participate in Journey for Change, techniques to help them grow. “Whenever I talk to young a volunteer mission to serve impoverished and AIDS journalists I tell them, you have to get out of your own Glorious Menefee, orphans in South Africa. Soledad documented her head and just focus on the interview. Don’t worry about (photo above, right) connection with the young men and women on the trip how you look on camera. Be well read and just do a a student at Capital led by Malaak Compton-Rock, wife of comedian Chris really good interview. Connect with the person.” Preparatory Magnet Rock. Soledad’s reporting style is strengthened by the School in Hartford, Capital Preparatory Magnet School was featured diversity of her experience being Black in America. Connecticut sits down in Black in America 2 as an example of educational Her work on the “In America” series is keeping the with Soledad during excellence. Soledad interviewed Capital Prep’s principal continued dialogue on race fueled with relevant and coverage from Black in Dr. Steve Perry and discussed his uncompromising timely information delivered by people living the stories. America 2. expectations for his students. “I am impressed with Examining the Black experience in America requires people who have a genuine commitment toward doing examining the good and the bad, the rich and the poor things. I like that Steve Perry is the real deal.”With mostly as objectively as possible and hopefully tempered with Black and Latino students enrolled, the school deservedly responsibility. Understanding Soledad’s unique Black boasts 100% placement of graduates into four-year experience hasn’t defined or limited her ability to cover universities. Over 2,000 applicants apply for 30 open contemporary events and issues. Conversely, it has spots in Capital Prep’s annual enrollment. expanded and guided her perspective and aspirations “Soledad is a genuine sister who can allow someone to be much more than the first name news icon that is else to shine and still see that she shines by giving them known as Soledad. S Spring 2010 Savoy 69