Off the Beaten Path with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien

“There’s a tremendous niche in telling stories that fly under the radar,” Soledad O’Brien told the audience at the Paley Center for Media in New York last Thursday. O’Brien, anchor of the CNN morning show Starting Point, shared these and other insights based on her reporting career and growing up in a mixed race family.

O’Brien said she left NBC’s Weekend Today show to go to CNN to be “knee-deep in breaking news stories. It was like going to college in terms of learning the craft.” She said she’s pleased to be known as a tough interviewer, and she has modeled her interviewing approach after Katie Couric. “Katie’s style is also conversational, polite and friendly,” O’Brien noted.

The anchor said her upbringing “shaped her as an outsider, which was a challenge at times.” But from that experience she also learned “your bosses don’t have to love you, and you can still succeed if your work is good. It’s not a popularity contest,” she added.

Working on documentaries has helped O’Brien make her mark in journalism, and she has focused on various demographic groups, including blacks, Hispanics and Muslims. In each case she tells what it’s like living in America from their standpoint.

As O’Brien explained, “the stories that interested me were the ones where you’re not bumping into everyone else covering the same topic. It allowed me to bring a perspective that otherwise wouldn’t exist. There’s no competition for these types of stories. I don’t have a mission or agenda to do PR for a community. I just want to tell these complex human beings’ stories and let them unfold.”