Award-winning reporter O’Brien delivers inspiration to Citizens employees

By Tessa Roy
Posted 5/25/17

By TESSA ROY

Soledad O’Brien says reporters should always fight to make sure their work is as good as it possibly can be, even if it makes them a bit of a “pain.”

“Truly it’s …

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Award-winning reporter O’Brien delivers inspiration to Citizens employees

Posted

By TESSA ROY

Soledad O’Brien says reporters should always fight to make sure their work is as good as it possibly can be, even if it makes them a bit of a “pain.”

“Truly it’s exhausting, but you end up getting a reputation, and your stuff is good because you fight for it,” she said.

O’Brien’s resume is extensive - the award -winning broadcaster has appeared on CNN, HBO and NBC, is the CEO of Starfish Media Group, and host of political news show Matter of Fact. She’s also created the PowHERful Foundation, which assists young women in their quests through college, with her husband Brad Raymond and is the author of two books. Last Tuesday, O’Brien shared her experiences with a lively crowd of employees at Citizens Bank’s Cranston branch as part of the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative.

“We thought Soledad really represents a lot of what we think is really important in terms of her whole career story, her whole personal story. I think [she] really resonates with a lot of our employees,” said Susan LaMonica, Chief Human Resource Officer at Citizens Bank.

O’Brien was the inaugural speaker in the initiative’s speaking series, and LaMonica said others are “in the works.” However, she said, O’Brien will be a “tough act to follow.”

In her remarks, O’Brien described her first job “removing staples from the walls” at a local station in Boston, her disastrous first time live on air, live shots in which she held giant fish and live cats, and reporting on bridges in poor weather conditions.

Though O’Brien and the Citizens crowd alike cracked up as she recounted her days of climbing the news ladder, she acknowledged that she and other reporters didn’t always tell stories as sensitively as they could have.

“We never really tried to understand people. We didn’t really try to dig into stories and advocate for the people we were covering,” she said. “We covered them like it’s really about me coming to you, but it wasn’t me helping them tell their story.”

Similar sentiments became even clearer to her when she later found herself covering some of the biggest national topics in recent years, namely Hurricane Katrina. O’Brien remembered the first person she met upon arriving to cover the disaster; a woman who had packed up her possessions and her children into a shopping cart approached her and asked her where to find buses. O’Brien also described following the Coast Guard on rescues, as well as observing sometimes gruesome cases of those waiting to be rescued.

“It made me feel like there are so many urgent and important stories to tell that you don’t need to hype the drama. They’re dramatic, and actually understanding the social issues underneath them is the hard work that needs to be done,” she said. “You don’t need to whip it up. You just need to try to understand it and maybe care about the people you’re reporting on.”

Much of O’Brien’s attitude toward storytelling was inspired by her own fascinating story. Her mother, who is black and Cuban, and father, who is white and Australian, met in Baltimore in 1958. Her mother cooked dinner for her father in her apartment on their first date since they weren’t allowed in restaurants together. As interracial marriage was not legal in many parts of the country, O’Brien’s parents drove to Washington, D.C. when they eventually married, then returned to live in Baltimore where their union was illegal. O’Brien remembers her mother having the attitude of “We knew America was better than that,” despite the way the couple was treated (O’Brien said her mother once told her they used to be spit on). That sentiment “framed” a lot of her reporting.

“There was something in that that I always liked, this idea that we had a ways to go and that they saw themselves as... part of this movement in some direction,” she said.

O’Brien herself is a mother of four, and has stories of her own in that respect. She discussed a time where a story she had pitched while pregnant was given to a male colleague, which clearly didn’t fly with her.

“I remember doing what any self respecting 7 1/2 months pregnant woman would do, which was pitching a fit until someone put me on a plane to go and do my story,” she said with a laugh, adding that she knew the “fit” she threw would have an impact beyond just herself.

“It mattered to the women behind me because if suddenly someone is okay with ‘well, moms aren’t going to want to do x,’ then that becomes the de facto stereotype,” she said.

Today, having started many of her own storytelling endeavors, O’Brien remains dedicated to crafting her own stories and providing a platform for others to tell theirs.

“To have your voice heard so people know what your story is and who you are, I think it’s really important,” she said. “You can’t let other people give their version of what they think they know.”

Visit matteroffact.tv, powherful.org/about-powherful and www.starfishmediagroup.com to learn more about some of O’Brien’s work. For more information about Citizens Bank and its Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, visit citizensbank.com.

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