Soledad O’Brien On Five Years At CNN: “Exactly The Right Thing For Me”

By Alissa Krinsky 

5 Questions For…Soledad O’Brien

Alissa Krinsky
TVNewser Contributor

Soledad O’Brien is marking her fifth anniversary with CNN. She joined the network in July of 2003 after spending seven years with NBC/MSNBC. In addition to being part of CNN’s political team, she is an anchor and correspondent for the network’s Special Investigations Unit and CNN Presents. She was previously co-anchor of American Morning.

At NBC News, O’Brien anchored the weekend editions of Today. Before that, she anchored several shows on MSNBC, reported for San Francisco’s KRON-TV and field produced for NBC News.

O’Brien’s latest CNN Presents documentary, Black in America, premieres new installments tomorrow night at 9pmET and Thursday at 9pmET.

1. TVNewser: Why I think the next two parts of “Black in America” are worth watching:
O’Brien: Because they’re riveting, frankly. They are stories that are rarely heard and rarely told, and rarely explored — not only stories about black Americans, but stories about American history that a lot of people don’t talk about. So I’m hopeful that these incredible stories will be interesting to everybody.

2. TVNewser: Since spring of 2007 — post-American Morning — my role at CNN has been…
O’Brien: It’s fantastic. I do not miss the 2:30am wake-up call, ever. Ever! It’s wonderful to be focused on stories that are high-profile and journalistically important around the clock. I miss doing live interviews, but that’s pretty much all I miss. I travel a lot, and it really is all worthwhile when these big stories like Black in America, which gets a lot of support, and company-wide focus when they’re about to air — because it makes all that time spent on airplanes worthwhile. But I do not ever miss that wake-up call!

3. TVNewser: Having just marked my five-year anniversary at CNN, I envision myself five years from now…
O’Brien: Doing similar things, in terms of interesting journalistic projects. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s really about the work.

I have four young kids, and for me to be away from home, it really has to be worthwhile. Over the last five years I’ve gotten to cover the biggest and most important stories…and when I’ve had to be in the field, it’s been very worthwhile. But I hope I’m doing the same thing [five years from now].

4. TVNewser: Looking back at my decision to leave NBC five years ago and join CNN…
O’Brien: It was tough, in the sense that I had only worked for NBC, I spent sixteen years at NBC. I had many friends there and I had tons of support from executives there. [NBC’s chief science correspondent] Bob Bazell was my boss when I became a network producer for the first time, and [NBC Talent Development VP] Elena Nachmanoff literally sealed the deal that allowed me to be a reporter at the NBC station in San Francisco. So I was very lucky because at every step of the way they gave me tons of opportunity, and pushed me and challenged me and critiqued me and sort of forced me to take on more and more and more, and, prepared me, frankly, to go to CNN.

So that part of it wasn’t hard, because it seemed clear to me that the next logical step in my growth, as a journalist, was that. I mean, that was really obvious. And I don’t think for a minute that anybody who knew me well and knew what I wanted to do thought it was at all a strange decision.

I still have a lot of friends there, I still do — [Today‘s] Hota Kotb is one of my best friends — so it’s hard only in the friendship and support. And that support continues to this day — it’s really been a nice thing. But there was no question ever in my mind, not for two seconds, that going to CNN wasn’t exactly the right thing for me. And I’ve certainly proven that correct.

5. TVNewser: In a past interview I described myself as “hyper”. Meaning…
O’Brien: Hyper, meaning I never do just one thing at one time. Hyper means I am always multi-tasking. I am Type A, double plus. Now, on one hand, that’s great, because I have four kids — the oldest is seven, then I have a six year-old and I have two almost-four year-olds — and so I have to multi-task to get everything done.

On the other hand, it really would be a joy to just do one thing at a time! But I am not the type of girl who sits on the beach and reads a book. I’m on the phone — on my Blackberry — doing this interview with you [while I’m on the beach on vacation], digging a hole [in the sand] to China with my boys!