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Monday, December 14, 2009

Soledad O'Brien Interviewed At Yale University

Soledad O'Brien spoke at Yale University on November 10, 2009. The Yale Bulletin posted an article about the visit: Possibilities Abound in a Nation That Is Diverse, CNN Journalist Says.


O'Brien, who was part of a team that earned CNN a George Foster Peabody Award for its Katrina coverage, described some of the horrific scenes of destruction she witnessed in New Orleans — a city, she said, that she "will never abandon."

While issues of diversity and community — such as those highlighted in New Orleans — have gained popularity in newsrooms (they once had such low status they usually followed the weather, she pointed out), O'Brien said she doesn't choose her subjects for that reason or to advocate for a particular agenda.

"I just want to tell great stories," she said.

Sometimes, the stories that she tells are "heartbreaking," said O'Brien, such as one in "Latino in America" describing the death of Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez from a beating by a group of teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The teens were only charged with simple assault.

"His identity cost him his life," she stated.

She ended her speech with a quote from Dante's "Inferno": "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality."

"Think about it — a person who has perpetrated something bad isn't even as bad as a person who stands by," she said.

"I think we have a great opportunity now to lead the charge. ... There are so many issues to solve, and it's going to require all of us — in all of our diversity — to come up with a wide range of solutions. What could be possible to make a difference?"

... to read the full article on the Yale Bulletin: Possibilities Abound in a Nation That Is Diverse, CNN Journalist Says

In addition to the lecture, O'Brien was also interviewed by Calhoun College master and historian Jonathan Holloway. The interview is available for download from iTunes.

O'Brien also spoke at a Calhoun Master’s Tea. The Yale Daily News had an article about the event:

The process of developing a documentary that resonates with viewers can be difficult, however, O’Brien noted. Finding characters that not only tell compelling stories but also have personalities that translate on-screen can be a challenge, O’Brien said.

“If someone’s story is riveting, you just know,” she said. “And other times they just don’t sing on camera and the plot just dies.”

The search for good characters also involves many arguments in the editing process of choosing which people and which moments to highlight, she said.

In terms of her interviewing skills, O’Brien admitted that it has been a learning process in which her technique went from “awful” at the outset of her career to “quite good.”

Listening actively and doing your homework beforehand are crucial steps to keeping control of the interview, she added. But an interviewer should not rush.

“I love having awkward conversations,” she commented. “In interviewing, the beauty is in the silence; 99 out of 100 times, they will say something surprising.”

... to read the full article: Soledad O’Brien sheds light on media

Photo credit: Grace Patuwo/ Yale Daily News

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