It's been rumored for a while and now it's official: Soledad O'Brien is out of the mix at CNN. She'll be producing documentaries for the network, but O'Brien will no longer have a daily presence at the rapidly evolving CNN.
O'Brien has been the face of the network's morning lineup since 2001; her current show, Starting Point, has been running since last year—for 10 years before that, her program was called American Morning. Behind Anderson Cooper, she's perhaps the face most associated with the network.
New boss Jeff Zucker has been making serious changes at CNN. Venerable left-right duo James Carville and Mary Matalin, conservative commentators Erick Erickson and Bill Bennett, and managing editor Mark Whitaker have all either left the network of their own volition or been shown the door. Even Cooper is not immune: his show will no longer be repeated in prime time—a period that CNN had more or less ceded to its competitors.
Thus far, CNN's shifting priorities have been better received by viewers than by media reporters. There was a lot of scoffing at the network's extensive coverage of the ill-fated Carnival Triumph "poop cruise" last week, but news junkies didn't care: 400,000 news demo watchers (25-54 year olds) tuned in as the disaster ship pulled into port during the prime 10-11 hour, giving the network its biggest nonelection win in quite a while.
CNN issued a statement in which Zucker praised O'Brien's reporting acumen, saying he'd grown to expect "riveting content" from her. "We greatly value Soledad’s experience, and her first-rate storytelling will continue to be an asset to CNN," he said.
For her part, O'Brien said that the "new partnership opportunity allows me to focus on what I love to do the most, and to focus on the next stage of my career, owning my own work."
Given that the documentaries are scheduled for 2014, the relationship between O'Brien and CNN may change further before (and if) the programs hit the airwaves.