The days of walking into a newsroom at 3:00 a.m. daily are far behind Soledad O’Brien.
She has several exit strategies in place. For one, the benevolent Emmy Award winner has transitioned from Starting Point to HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. “I have very specific things I want to do. [CNN] wanted to go in a different direction. It didn’t include the kind of stuff I wanted to do,” says O’Brien.
Her debut segment examined Iraq war vets in San Diego that use mixed martial arts to combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The piece was one of the Long Island native’s first stories about veterans.
O’Brien’s Real Sports commentaries will refrain from highlighting competition. “It’s about human beings. The stories I tell are you by yourself. There is a real desire for thoughtful interviews, to really push people and tell authentic stories on people’s lives,” says O’Brien.
The gig also reunites O’Brien with a like-minded Gumbel. The two were colleagues at NBC during her 16 year tenure as a news producer. “You want to be around people who are smart, successful, interesting and reach for quality,” says O’Brien.
The thought-provoking interviewer has formed a production company, Starfish Media Group, which is truly her endeavor bearing her imprint. O’Brien’s venture allows her the full latitude to create quality programming and use her business savvy to ink deals with various networks.
“I’ve built a good brand. People like the work I do. The stories I tell could have a market elsewhere,” she says.
Furthermore, O’Brien owns up to her knack for arguing. “You can win by being smarter, doing the work, bringing info and leading. It’s a great way to do journalism,” she says.
O’Brien, a mother of four, will continue to devote time to her humanitarian efforts. Her Soledad O’Brien and Brad Raymond foundation, to date, has funded and guided 25 girls through college.
Recalling a conversation with one of Warren Buffett’s representatives, O’Brien says of giving back, “It’s not about scaling. The magic is in the individual getting through and getting out. It’s exactly what I would do for my own children.”
The Peabody Award-winning sole owner of the In America documentaries was recently honored with the Urban League of Greater Atlanta’s Spirit of the League Award. O’Brien was touched to receive the coveted honor alongside other fearless entrepreneurs that persevered.
“My mission is to take the advantages I had and use that to leverage other people’s stories. Circumstances put you there, and you get dealt a bad hand. It’s our responsibility to figure out how to step in and ride that ship a little bit,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien, 47, is returning to her alma mater, Harvard University, as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow via the Graduate School of Education. An in-demand public speaker, she will teach a fall senior seminar, co-facilitate a spring course on media influences and conduct research projects through Harvard’s Center for European Studies.
“Journalism is about all of these different disciplines. You can jump into every other conversation,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien is overwhelmed at times. After 26 years in journalism, her freedom symbolizes a new phase. “I’m not much of a look back kind of person. I’ve had a fantastic career. Life is about stages. To be able to do what you wanna do is incredibly freeing. You take opportunities and move ahead,” says O’Brien.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.