O'Brien, Soledad: 1966—: Reporter
Soledad O'Brien: 1966—: Reporter
Television news anchor Soledad O'Brien generated a flurry of her own news stories after she began appearing on the cable network MSNBC in 1996. Hired as the host of its daily technology show, O'Brien and her dramatically exotic looks garnered a slew of fan mail and helped make her one of the news channel's rising stars. O'Brien eventually moved over to the NBC news division, and since 1999 has hosted the weekend edition of the Today show. Her fan base remains a dedicated one: Peter Brown, O'Brien's onetime boss at a Boston television station, praised her in an interview with San Francisco Chronicle writer Sylvia Rubin. "She's smart, a quick learner and proves that a really nice person can finish first," Brown effused.
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."
"Goddess to the Geeks"
By 1997 O'Brien and The Site had attracted somewhat of a cult following. The online magazine Salon-.com named her "Goddess to the Geeks," and she was receiving up to 2,000 e-mails a week. Even NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw was a fan: Brokaw told the Washington Post that he found O'Brien "cute and so bright and so mature in her broadcasting skills. There she is, totally at ease, very articulate and commanding of the subject matter and the environment around her, and yet able to do all this in a user-friendly way." Inevitably, a programming shake-up at the fledgling network led to cancellation of The Site, and O'Brien was given the anchor slot of Morning Blend, a two-hour news talk show that aired Saturdays and Sundays. From there, MSNBC partner NBC invited her to guest-host on weekend edition of Today show, which was her first experience in live national television. She was named permanent co-anchor of the weekend show in July of 1999.
In 2000, O'Brien was named as one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People In The World" annual list. She earned a more enduring honor that same year when she finished her Harvard degree, without taking any time off from her job at NBC. A resident of New York City, O'Brien finished her Harvard coursework by spending Monday through Wednesday at her sister's Boston-area home. Her semester also coincided with her first trimesters of pregnancy, and O'Brien told Parents magazine that she "underestimated how exhausting pregnancy can be. I'd walk around Harvard Yard thinking, I would pay one of these undergraduates $20 if I could just lie down in her bed for 20 minutes!"
Sofia Elizabeth, O'Brien's child with investment-banker husband Brad Raymond, was born in October of 2000. She still hosts Weekend Today, and files stories for NBC's Nightly News. Before Today co-anchor Katie Couric renewed her contract in 2001, O'Brien, who occasionally served as substitute anchor on the week-day show, was mentioned as a possible successor. She and her husband are committed to staying in New York City, in part to avoid for Sofia the kind of suburban isolation O'Brien experienced as a youth on Long Island, as she told Parents. "I want to make sure she knows many different kinds of people."
Entertainment Weekly, January 10, 1997.
Parents, October 2001.
People, June 16, 1997; May 8, 2000.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 15, 1997.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 16, 2001.
Washington Post, June 10, 1997.
MSNBC, http://www.msnbc.com/onair/bios/s_obrien.asp (February 17, 2002).
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