CEO and Journalist Soledad O’Brien on Taking Leaps and Following Your Passions
Halfway through college, Soledad O'Brien realized she was no longer passionate about pursuing pre-med. She left Harvard to take an entry-level job at a local TV station. On this episode of Full Disclosure, host Roben Farzad talks with award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien on how a leap of faith led to CNN, and her decision to break from the network and start her own production company.
The show airs each Saturday on VPM News 88.9 FM at 6:00 p.m. and Sundays at 8:00 p.m.
The following excerpt was edited for clarity.
Roben Farzad: Did you go out and talk to various producers and mentors? I know that it's been a revolving door over there. But at the same time, it's terrifying to step away from a big flagship which can cross subsidize various things you might be able to take several weeks to do a longer doc project or couple of months. But now you're out on your own. You're pounding the pavement at a time when the business model of this entire industry is significantly in question and moreover, they're these cord cutters. Yes, everybody has moved consumption, the bulk of it to online, but you're trading dollars for pennies and nickels there.
Soledad O’Brien: Well, it didn't really work like that, for me. I much more felt like what I wanted to do, I wasn't going to be able to do there. And so it was made very clear to me that I could stay. They asked me to stay. But then they were like, meh, we don't dislike you, we just don't love you. And I've never been the person who wants to stay in a place where your bosses don't have a vision for your success. I felt like I'd had a lot of success, I think I did almost 50 docs when I was at CNN. So it felt like there's a viable business model and I sat down with my husband, and we would discuss if there was a model where you yourself could go and do the things you want to do. Could you build a business off of the work that you've done and the quality of your reporting? That was really the question. It wasn't a vision quest. It was the same question I had years ago when I left KRON-TV in San Francisco. Mostly because I had a boss who essentially said ‘you're fine and if you want to stay, you can stay, but I don't think you should learn how to anchor. I don't really see a big role for you, but you're fine. You are a perfectly fine employee.’ Well, who wants to work at a place where people are like, you’ll do? So I think I've always been a little pigheaded on that front. Sure, it might come down to me one day being in a place where people are just tolerating me. I take my check every two weeks and we all just kind of slide in and out of the door, but that sounds terrible. That really does not sound like what I thought I could do. Also I made a ton of money at CNN and I saved a ton of money when I was at CNN. So I knew I could start at least at the beginning. I had the finances to be able to build a company. I could go and rent space in New York City, which is expensive. I could hire people right away. In fact, CNN became my first client. My exit deal made them invest in a bunch of projects that I was doing. So yes, kind of a good deal. And I took my library with me, which I thought I'd be able to monetize. So it was like, is this other option as good or a better option than just staying in a place where people are like, you can stay? But I mean, I don't know. I think it's the same advice I'd give my kids, if your boss isn't psyched about having you ... why would you want to stay?