3 minute read

Soledad O'Brien: 1966—: Reporter

Long Island Childhood

The future news star was born in 1966 and named Maria de la Soledad O'Brien. One of six children of her schoolteacher mother, a black Cuban, and Irish-Australian father, a college professor, she was called Solly by her family from an early age. "I consider myself black primarily, and Latina sort of secondarily," she told Washington Post writer Lloyd Grove. Her parents had met in Baltimore, on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, but interracial marriage was illegal in the state of Maryland at the time, so they traveled to Washington, D.C. to wed in 1959. Her mixed ancestry distinguished O'Brien from her classmates in the community of St. James where she grew up, on Long Island's north shore, and she suffered the occasional racial slur. "I knew I was different from my early childhood," she told Grove. "I knew I would never date anybody in high school. Nobody wants to date somebody who looks different." Still, a strong sense of identity and membership in a family of overachievers helped her deal positively with the situation. "It would be incorrect to say I had a very traumatic experience," she said in the interview with Grove. "Once I went to college, where differences are more accepted, people didn't care much."

College for O'Brien was Harvard University, where she studied English literature, but also took courses in the pre-med curriculum. The science courses helped her win an internship at WBZ-TV, a Boston television station, and while still in college she was offered a full-time job at the CBS affiliate as a researcher for the station's medical reporter. She decided to leave school and pursue a career in journalism. She was hired by NBC News in New York City in 1991 as a researcher and producer for its science correspondent, Bob Bazell.

At a Glance . . .

Born Maria de la Soledad O'Brien, September 19, 1966; daughter of a Edward (a college professor) and Estella (a public-school teacher) O'Brien; married Brad Raymond (an investment banker), c. 1995; children: Sofia Elizabeth. Education: Attended Harvard University, 1980s and 2000; earned degree, 2000.

Career: Reporter for KISS-FM (radio station), Boston, MA; WBZ-TV in Boston, associate producer and news-writer, late 1980s; NBC News, New York City, researcher and producer, 1991-93; KRON-TV, San Francisco, began as reporter, became East Bay bureau chief; The Know Zone, Discovery Channel, co-host. c. 1993-95; hired by MSNBC, 1996, as anchor of The Site; became host of Morning Blend, 1997; guest anchor of Weekend Today, NBC News, became permanent anchor, July 1999; contributing technology editor, USA Weekend Magazine.

Memberships: National Association of Hispanic Journalists; National Association of Black Journalists.

Awards: Emmy award, Northern California chapter of the Academy of Television Arts and Science, for The Know Zone, 1995; Hispanic Achievement Award in Communications, 1997.

Addresses: Home—New York City. Office—MSNBC, One MSNBC Plaza, Secaucus, NJ 07094.

O'Brien headed west when she was hired as a reporter for San Francisco's KRON-TV. In 1993, she co-hosted a Discovery Channel program, The Know Zone, which earned her a local Emmy award. When she learned that Microsoft and NBC were planning a new cable venture to be called MSNBC, she lobbied for a job as host of its benchmark daily technology show, The Site. As she told the San Francisco Chronicle's Rubin, "I just knew I was perfect for this job. My vision was that I didn't have to pretend to be a technologist; I could just be a lay person."

That Internet-novice status indeed won her the job, and O'Brien was commended for making the new technology accessible to viewers. The show offered industry news, reviews of interesting Web sites, features on new software, and interviews with Silicon Valley executives. O'Brien even bantered with Dev, a virtual-reality character, for a viewer-mail segment. The taped show aired six nights a week, and O'Brien regularly worked 12-hour days. Some of that involved reviewing the broadcasts of the day before. "My mother sends e-mails telling me I'm so abrupt with the guests," she told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Am I too abrupt? I probably am, so I watch tapes to figure out how to do a more comfortable interview."

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Grace Napolitano: 1936—: Politician to Richard (Wayne) Peck (1934-) Biography - CareerSoledad O'Brien: 1966—: Reporter Biography - Long Island Childhood, "goddess To The Geeks"