University Lectures

Former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien to speak about newsroom diversity at 1st University Lecture

Courtesy of Soledad O'Brien

Soledad O'Brien, a prominent broadcast journalist, will speak at Goldstein Auditorium at the Schine Student Center on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

When Soledad O’Brien was a student at Harvard University in 1988, the big issue on campus was a set of laws that had established institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa for the better part of the 20th century.

Activists across the United States, at the time, were pushing colleges to divest from South Africa due to the country’s apartheid discrimination system, O’Brien said.

Now — preparing to give a speech at Syracuse University on Thursday about diversity in journalism — O’Brien recalls college life. Her first job. Political movements in the 1980s.

Some things have changed, she said. Others have not.

“There’s a lot to talk about,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien will speak as part of the University Lecture series on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Goldstein Auditorium at the Schine Student Center. O’Brien, known for her work with NBC and Al Jazeera America, now runs the Starfish Media Group production company.

She reports on racial and social issues in the U.S. O’Brien, for example, worked on a documentary about growing up black in the U.S. She’s hosting a series on the opioid epidemic for Hearst-owned stations, set to air this month.

The former CNN “American Morning” co-anchor was named journalist of the year in 2010 by the National Association of Black Journalists.

During her speech at SU, O’Brien will focus on how little newsrooms have changed in terms of diversity since the late 1980s, she said.

But in a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Orange, O’Brien also said journalism practices and reporting culture have both changed since she first started out at WXKS-FM in Boston decades ago.

“People will make a snap judgement about what you do based on your past work,” O’Brien said. There is added pressure now to perform, yet more access to technology for broadcast students, she said. O’Brien didn’t have that early in her career.

How active students are in political discussions and invested in local issues has also changed, O’Brien said. Millennials get a bad rep, she said. Many kids and young adults do stay informed about the news.

Political climates on college campuses are much more “visceral” now, she said.

“It’s encouraged me a lot just how engaged young people are,” O’Brien said. “Sometimes it’s very messy, sometimes they do things I think they shouldn’t do. But I’m actually much more encouraged when I see students trying to figure out an issue and wrap their head around an issue.”


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