Hard Choices

CNN's Soledad O'Brien on Her Entrepreneurial TV Future


CNN's Soledad O'Brien on Her Entrepreneurial TV Future

Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

I never really hesitated about going to Starting Point [which premiered on Jan. 2, 2012]. I thought there was an opportunity to get beyond the platitudes of “Yes, Medicare! No, Medicare!” and actually look at the Congressional Budget Office report. When I left American Morning in 2007, I’d focused on doing documentaries. But I thought Starting Point was a great opportunity to be involved in the zeitgeist.

The show was able to grow, but it takes time. I don’t know that an aggressive interview style was not good for our morning show, which is what some people said. It takes time to build an audience. When Jeff Zucker [CNN’s (TWX) new president, above] started last month, he had a different vision. He was coming in to make changes across the board that, frankly, CNN really needs. Part of that vision was that I wouldn’t be on the morning show. Once I knew what he wanted, I focused on how I could do what I enjoy most.

We struck an unusual deal. I’ll get to leave CNN with my catalog and documentaries. We were able to create a brand at CNN—Black in America—that I now own. I can take that brand and extend it in any way I want. You have Netflix (NFLX) and all these channels that are looking for interesting and different ways to tell stories. To have ownership of Black in America and Latino in America is hugely important.

I absolutely pushed for that—it was critical to me. I’m so affiliated with this brand that there wasn’t a real struggle. I don’t just own it, but I can now take it across other platforms.

I’m not exclusive to CNN. If I decide I want to go and do a show somewhere, I can go and do it. I’ve never owned my own content. Most people in TV do not own their own production company. In fact, most of us don’t even own our own Facebook (FB) pages, and some don’t own their Twitter account.

Everyone is focused on airtime and getting another slot. I don’t think I’ll be off the radar screen. When I took a couple of years to do the documentaries after I left American Morning—what was I gone for, five years?—I didn’t feel that I was floating under the radar. Reporters will say, “But there’s CNN and Fox (NWS) and MSNBC. There must be one place there where you want to be.” No. What’s exciting is to own my own product. I think of myself as a journalist and a storyteller. Now I get to be an entrepreneur, too. — As told to Diane Brady 


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