The daughter of a Afro Cuban mother and an Australian father and the fifth of six children that all graduated from Harvard University - CNN’s Soledad O’Brien talks about her journey from Long Island to the CNN anchor desk in The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities available now in book stores and online. Soledad’s latest novel is filled with personal encounters from her many reporting assignments from her early days in broadcasting to covering world disasters while shedding light on being Black and Latino in America – Soledad O’Brien spoke to Concrete Loop’s Felicia Mancini on her big story.
FELICIA: I like to ask most of the people I have the pleasure of interviewing this question especially journalists I have spoke to, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
SOLEDAD: I had a series of things I was obsessed with when I was a child. I wanted to walk race horses because I wanted to be a Jockey, a doctor, absolutely and positively I wanted to be a doctor. I also wanted to be a musician! We had a family newspaper and I would interview my dad about a vegetable garden you know? I don’t think I necessarily knew I wanted to become a journalist but there were clues.
FELICIA: Who, what or where inspires you?
SOLEDAD: I think that interesting people and interesting stories do! I’m curious to get to the root of what’s going on. I want to interview the main characters and that inspires me. So does my family that always pushes me to do things well- I am really lucky to have friends that raise up important questions with random conversations we have too.
FELICIA: What did you take from your upbringing as a multicultural young woman in America that influences your work now?
SOLEDAD: I think when I was growing up I never really one hundred percent could identify with anybody. I think in a sense being an outsider and still being able to make it work with is what a lot of journalists have to do and jump into a situation for a story. I needed to identify but still had an outside look that came from my childhood having an outsider perspective that you could have a critically eye on something while still understanding the issues and where they are coming from.
FELICIA: You have worn many hats around a newsroom so to speak while taking on the role of a reporter,producer and other various roles but what do you feel most comfortable doing?
SOLEDAD: I love traveling and documentaries. I really love doing long form and that I realized that the things I am good at are interviews and I extended it and loved to dig and dig. I have had the luxury of being able to go back when working on a documentary and going over and over it again. I guess that is where my evolution is. I liked the path I was put on – I liked to try new things and at the same time I never felt out of my league – that’s how I think I evolved. I think a good interview is a good interview
FELICIA: While working on “The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities” how was the process like when recollecting on not only your professional experiences but personal ones? Did you ever find yourself in a state of nostalgia where you sat back and went “Wow…this actually happened”?
SOLEDAD: Oh gosh no. With the personal moments I was less interested in those and loved the the reporting moments and having the chance at going back to those. I hate talking about myself but in the same time I’m glad I got to tell those stories. They were stories that helped frame where I came from and my perspective that I have, but the reporting moments I could tell these stories all the time because its where I got to tell things that aren’t heard of that were left out and to give the back story with interesting tidbits with what goes on behind stories that usually doesn’t get to be talked about.
FELICIA: In the book you touched upon labeling as a multicultural woman and with your documentaries such as “Black in America” as well as “Latino in America” what do you know now about labeling yourself in regards to being a journalist and as a woman?
SOLEDAD: I think outlook wise it has made me interested in the nature of labeling and who are we and what it means to black and Latino, who has that identity what does it mean? I think it prepared me for a deep investigation with identity and I didn’t feel that way back then but it has been a good thing. Its not like it left a giant scar on me; certainly it just wasn’t fun but now that I think of it I contemplated something I report on now.
FELICIA: If you could say one thing to all of the Black and Latino aspiring journalists out there right now what would you say to them?
SOLEDAD: Its all about telling stories that need to be told and facing them. People always will say this isn’t a good story, don’t say that you know? There are a lot of people that do support our work and stories about our community because the range of our experiences whether its good or bad as Black and Latinos happen to all human beings and there shouldn’t just be black stories- there should be great stories. I want to see more great stories!
FELICIA: You are a journalist, author and mother of four so how do you do the juggling act so well?
SOLEDAD: You’re funny! If you could only see me now looking like a crazy person running around with all these bags in my hand you’d think hmmm maybe she doesn’t balance it all so well. But honestly, I think the thing is not to turn it off and take what you learn from these stories and keep going with them. Save it for a book or use it for a lecture and grow with them because its not about turning them on and off and when you have kids they take up your attention so you cant come back from covering something like Hurricane Katrina and wallow with your children. The beauty with kids is they take up all of your time and effort so I have always appreciated that – I don’t want to get to the point where I am covering things that I find hard to cover. I find that I can get everything out in my reporting and into my work.
FELICIA: I have one last hard hitting question for you that as a Journalist I have been dying to ask you…
FELICIA: What is in your iPod?
SOLEDAD: *laughs* Chrisette Michele’s latest album is just so great! Also some Curtis Mayfield actually a lot of him and a lot of gospel!
Soledad recently interviewed Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas after her controversial leave after nearly 60 years of reporting that can be viewed here on CNN
For more on Soledad O’Brien’s work log on to www.cnn.com or check her out on twitter twitter.com/soledad_obrien .
The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities is available now on shelves and online.