By Amy Stretten
Last week I had the privilege of meeting CNN Journalist, Soledad O’Brien, whom the National Association of Black Journalists honored with the Journalist of the Year Award at their 35th annual convention and career fair in San Diego, California. O’Brien shared with me what has made her such a successful journalist. “Ultimately what you’re known for is just being solid and incredible. You want to stick out? Then you know what, put your head down and do your work. Be the person everyone can go to. Be solid and consistent.”
Who better to offer advice to incoming and returning J-School students than Soledad O’Brien? As a CNN Anchor and Special Correspondent, as well as a reporter for the CNN ‘In America’ unit, O’Brien has reported on the Black, Latino, and gay experience in America.
Maria de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien who is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists was raised by an Afro-Cuban mother and an Australian father of Irish and Scottish heritage and is the fifth of six children, all of whom graduated from Harvard University. She grew up on the affluent North Shore in the community of St. James on Long Island, New York. Now, a Manhattan resident, she is raising four children with her husband, Bradley Raymond who is an investment banker.
One might say O’Brien has the market cornered, being a journalist who represents more than one community. Her advice on how to report in a growing multi-cultural world is to “Go and see for yourself…the problem when you’re talking about multiculturalism is that people like to sit at a desk and report about a community. Get on a plane and…figure it out! Walk among the people. See where there’s tension, see where there’s joy, see what the real situation is. Have some personal experience because that’s where you’re going to get your stories. Stories are not going to come from reading six articles – they never do. Stories come from saying, ‘Wow! There’s something really interesting going on in my neighborhood. What’s going on there?’ You’re not going to get it from reading. Anybody can tell a good story, but you have to be there to witness it with a recorder.”
In a news release published on the NABJ website, organization President Kathy Y. Times said, “Soledad’s work in the ‘Black in America’ series…was an example of great reporting, and through her work and platform she shared the stories in our communities that often go untold. She is truly worthy of NABJ’s Journalist of the Year honor.” In speaking about her award, O’Brien says, “It’s an incredible honor because I think when you are judged by your peers…it’s very significant. It was a complete shock to be told that I won it. I’m really proud of it. We’ve done some ground-breaking work.”
Ground-breaking work indeed. The second installment of the ‘Black in America’ series, for which O’Brien was primarily being honored, was CNN’s most-watched documentary series of 2009. In it, O’Brien explores the way in which people have gotten involved in their communities to make a significant impact and improve the Black American experience. Later that year CNN premiered ‘Latino in America’ which, in a similar vein, delves into the diverse experiences and obstacles facing the Latino community as well as the impact Latinos have on America.
Speaking about her award further, O’Brien says, “I hope it’s an honor that’s at the beginning of my career and not an end of career kind of honor.” I am most certain this is among many accolades O’Brien will receive for her work. We will be seeing much more of O’Brien this year when her upcoming CNN specials ‘New Orleans Rising’ and ‘Black in America: Churched’ air on August 21 and October 14, respectively.