Connect with us
BSM Summit

BNM Writers

Soledad O’Brien Was Ready to Work For Herself

“I wanted to create a new model where I could control my own content. I’m not sure I could have made a move like that until that point.”

Jim Cryns




It’s remarkable when you get the opportunity to speak with someone who has experienced such immense respect and admiration in their industry. And Soledad O’Brien, deserving of both, would be the first to dismiss those notions, with candor and warmth.

Earlier in her career, O’Brien anchored a show for MSNBC, before moving on to co-anchor NBC’s Weekend Today and contributed segments to the Today show and NBC Nightly News.

“I’ve been around this business a long time,” O’Brien jokes.

In 2003, O’Brien transitioned to CNN, where she was the face of CNN’s morning news shows.

Her work has been recognized with three Emmy awards. She was also honored twice with the George Foster Peabody award for her coverage of Hurricane Katrina and her reporting on the BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill.

As a student at Harvard, O’Brien learned an invaluable lesson during a controversial lecture.

“I was a freshman or sophomore in the audience, and I couldn’t contribute because I wasn’t prepared. There were students attending the lecture who understood the minutia and details in the discussion. You can’t debate someone unless you know about the issue. You look like an idiot. That taught me you really had to know yourself.”

O’Brien said she comes from a close and loving family. At college, she said she met so many people that weren’t like her.

“I was able to engage in debate. You might not always agree with someone, but that didn’t stop you from being good friends. There are mentors you have for years, who help shape you. I’ve also had mentors where I didn’t even realize they were mentors. I’m a big believer that mentors make you successful, so glom on to one when you can.”

In 2013, CNN came to O’Brien and said management wanted to take her show in a different direction.

“Which meant they wanted someone else to anchor the show,” O’Brien said.

That was fine with O’Brien as she was ready to switch gears. That included putting her energy into her new business, Starfish Media Group. Ironically, CNN became Starfish’s first client the day after she left the network.

“I wanted to create a new model where I could control my own content,” she explained. “I’m not sure I could have made a move like that until that point.”

When O’Brien started at CNN, her job focused on live, breaking coverage. Whatever was unfolding at that moment.

“I liked that a lot, but it had its limits,” she said. “I’ve always loved long-form work, like documentaries.”

The timing of her move to creating long-form content may have come at a fortuitous time as the news business has been morphing.

O’Brien said straight news could be a loss-leader for organizations.

“You’re dealing with organizations who are trying to make a profit, and that is more challenging today. Journalists and reporters today are judged by how often a story is re-tweeted. How often it is viewed. The quality of the piece no longer seems to be the issue. If you’re not re-tweeted, the story is perceived as not being good enough,” she said. “A reporter has to wonder and worry whether they are going to be able to keep their job by a public that is judging their news story.”

Her personal view of the social media landscape since she left network news is simple. O’Brien said she doesn’t care how many people follow her. She’s not concerned with who she is following, and doesn’t care if something she writes or creates goes viral. For O’Brien, it’s the quality and importance of the work that carry the day.

“If I lose X-thousand followers, I don’t track it,” O’Brien said. “To me, my feed is all about bringing people stories they might not get elsewhere. I like uncomfortable and awkward conversations. Race is an uncomfortable conversation. With Starfish, I did a series focusing on women who were rescuers at 9/11. We checked if they were written out of history, and they were. A lot of stories were done on rescue dogs, but not the women.”

She said her production company has allowed her to tell stories she believes in.

“When you tell people stories about people who have been undercovered, you widen the tent. I think people are interested in the complex narrative which is the American narrative.”

Starfish has given her and the stories she produces a broader reach.

“We’re interested in distribution of our original content,” O’Brien said. “We can allow our content to live on numerous platforms.”

Regardless of where the content ends up, O’Brien said good journalism never changes. The quality of work is what should rule the day. When she left CNN, O’Brien was given her entire vault of work from the network, more than 50 hours of work. She said that the library has been invaluable to Starfish.

“I don’t think I initially knew how important it was,” she said. “Having a library of material has been so important to us. It has allowed us to tell our stories in a more accessible way. Networks can tell journalists how to navigate around a story. We don’t have to do that as I think owning the material is essential to good storytelling.”

At one of her network jobs, O’Brien inquired if she could do a documentary on poverty in America. She met with a response equating to, ‘Ew, nobody wants to see that.’

“Now I can tell that story,” she said. “We’re witnessing the disappearance of the middle class and I can bring that story to people who are interested. You’re dealing with your own content and you can shop it until you find the right outlet. Until somebody says it’s great. I can develop stories I feel passionate about.”

Since she left network television, O’Brien thinks some of the content on cable and television has been less than satisfying.

“Everything today is over the top, crazy,” she explained. “During the 2016 debates, my son asked me what they meant by Donald Trump’s fingers being small. I said I had no idea. That became a constant discussion and that’s unfortunate. The media’s job should be to inform people. To undergird our work with data and analysis. Today, the crazier it is, the more air time it gets.”

In regards to the mid-term elections in November, O’Brien said all the political talking heads got it wrong.

“It was an inaccurate narrative,” she said. “There were completely bullshit stories. People were gobbling it up hook-line and sinker. I’m impressed with the young people and how they responded in the voting booth. It showed me they aren’t necessarily watching the evening news.”

Since 2016, O’Brien has been the host for Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, a nationally syndicated weekly talk show produced by Hearst Television.

With Starfish and SO’B Productions, O’Brien produced the documentary, The Rebellious Life Of Mrs. Rosa Parks. It can be viewed on Peacock TV.

“Rosa Parks was a complete badass,” O’Brien said. “The New York Times eulogized Parks as an accidental matriarch. That wasn’t accurate. They treated her as though one day the woman was tired and didn’t want to give up her seat.”

No, Rosa Parks wasn’t a woman randomly snared in history. She was a secretary for the NAACP and was looking to make a statement.

“That cracked me up when she was termed an accidental matriarch,” O’Brien said. “Somebody had to do what Parks did. I’m always amazed by the stories we tell ourselves. Parks was close to the Black Panthers.”

It wasn’t like she was just coming home from shopping at the A&P and decided to take on the establishment. When Parks was 8 years-old, her grandfather would stay up nights on the porch with a shotgun to keep the KKK at bay.

O’Brien doesn’t understand why we were made to believe it was a random experience.

“Who benefits from it being accidental?” O’Brien asked. “It was treated as folklore. There’s no way Harriett Tubman just one day woke up and decided to start an underground railroad. Things like this are planned.”

Her SO’B Productions has produced documentary films such as Hungry to Learn, Who Killed My Son?, Kids Behind Bars, Babies Behind Bars, War Comes Home, Honor Delayed, and Heroin.

“I just like getting history right,” O’Brien said. “It’s easy to get marginalized people wrong. We write people out of a story that deserve to be in there.”

The documentary Heroin exposed the veteran journalist to amazing revelations.

“It’s so sad,” she explained. “In the show a woman has a child, and it’s clear she loved her child. When told by the interviewer she was essentially killing her daughter with her own drug addiction, the mother replied uh-huh.”

O’Brien said the mother was aware what she was doing was in essence killing her child, and she just reacted so matter of factly.

“It was chilling. She knew it, but didn’t choose or couldn’t do anything about it.”

O’Brien said there are so many chilling stories surrounding the opioid crisis. Parents are at their wits end.

“Nothing they were trying to do was working. There was no way they could help someone they loved. Things were so crazy around the house, families were putting valuables in a safe to keep the abuser from ripping them off. Treatment often doesn’t work. There was one person who had undergone nine stays in rehab. That costs a great deal of money.”

In the same documentary, O’Brien said she was interviewing one woman and she’d brought a friend with her to the interview.

“She looked put together, normal,” O’Brien said. “It turns out she too was a heroin addict. I asked her what she did for a living, and she told me she was a kindergarten teacher. She’d buy drugs on the street. It was shocking to me. If you saw her on the street, there’s no way you’d think she was a heroin user. I was completely stunned. Across America, heroin abuse is skyrocketing, and not just in poor communities. In Vermont alone, treatment for opiate addiction, including heroin and Oxycontin, has risen 770% since 2000.”

In all of her work, O’Brien said it’s her goal to always have people feel they can tell her something. Establish a trust. Truly listen to them.

“In Honor Delayed, we looked at a number of people who were eligible for the Medal of Honor, but for whatever reason didn’t get it. A number of these people were Black (or) Jewish. These are people that honorably served our country and were denied the medal for whatever reason. Despite their extraordinary acts of heroism, the nation’s highest honor has long remained elusive for a group of exceptional American veterans.”

Of the nearly 4,000 medals awarded, only 234 have been awarded to minority service members. O’Brien needed to know why.

O’Brien is a child of mixed heritage. Her Australian father is of Irish and Scottish descent and her mother is from Havana of Afro-Cuban descent. “Growing up in the only Afro–Cuban family in my town on Long Island may have given me some appreciation for outsiders, for people who look and speak differently.”

“My mother taught French and English,” O’Brien said. “I don’t really consider myself bi-lingual, but I’m very good at Spanglish,” she jokes. “I think it would be so much easier to interview people in their native tongue.”

She spends winters in Florida where she rides horses, enjoys life. In 2016, O’Brien  appeared in Zoolander 2. “I always seem to play the reporter,” she jokes. “I had so much fun and the people were very nice.”

O’Brien said she also loves doing hair.

“As a girl of color, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

Continue Reading

BNM Writers

Market Still Finding 2023 Footing

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

Avatar photo




While it’s hard to imagine 2023 being as painful for investors as 2022, experts still cannot say for certain we are destined for blue skies ahead. Many in the media are starting the year by sifting through the stock market tea leaves; trying to figure out what historical data can tell us about probabilities and expectations for the next twelve months.

Some think the United States is poised for a market rebound, while others remain quite bearish, feeling that negative policy implications have yet to be fully realized.

Peter Tuchman of Trademas Inc. joined Neil Cavuto on his Fox News program Friday, to offer his thoughts about where the American stock market might be headed in light of the newly-divided United States Congress.

“Markets have a sort of a gut of their own,” Cavuto opened. “Today’s a good example. We’re up 300 points, ended up down 112 points. What’s going on?”

“Markets don’t like unknowns, and markets need confidence. The investing community needs confidence,” Tuchman said. “And I think it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild that. And as we saw the other night with what went on in the House, it feels like people should get busy governing as opposed to all this posturing.”

Six months ago, Tuchman didn’t have a solid feel for the direction of the market. And just two trading weeks into the year, he still doesn’t believe any real trend has been established.

“The market has yet to find its ground. It’s yet to find its footing,” Tuchman told Cavuto. “And still, even coming into 2023, the first week of trading we have not found our footing. We have come in on a couple of economic notes that were a little bit positive. We opened up with a little bit of irrational enthusiasm. By the end of the days we were trading down.”

Meanwhile, some financial outlets, such as CNBC, have dug into the data showing what a market rise during the year’s first week – such as what we experienced this year – potentially means for the rest of 2023. They published a story last week with the headline, Simple ‘first five days’ stock market indicator is poised to send a good omen for 2023“.

On an episode of his popular YouTube program late last week, James from Invest Answers dug into 73 years of stock market data, to test that theory and see if the first five days of yearly stock market performance are an indicator of what the market might do over the full year.

“Some analysts pay attention to this, the first five trading day performance, can it be an indicator of a good year or a bad year,” James began last week, “I wanted to dig into all of that and get the answer for myself. Because some people think yes. Some people swear blind by it. Some people think it’s a myth or an old wive’s tale. Some people think it’s a great omen.”

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

Based on James’ analysis…

If the gains from the first five market days of the year are negative, the market rises 86 percent of the time over the full year, with an average gain of 6%.

If the first five days are positive, the market increases 92% of the time, with an average yearly gain of 16%.

Most importantly, in this year’s scenario, where the first five days saw a jump of more than 1%, the market traditionally ends positive for the year 95 percent of the time. Those years see an average yearly gain of 18%.

“Is it a good omen, does it look bullish?” James asked. “Well, yes, based on history. But remember, there are factors like inflation, interest rates, geopolitical turmoil, supply chains, slowing economy. All that stuff is in play. But history also says that the market bounces bounces back before the market even realizes it’s in a recession. That’s an important thing to know.”

On his Your World program, Cavuto wondered if the recent House speaker voting drama has added to the uncertainty facing markets.

“Historically, Wall Street definitely is a bit more friendly to a Republican administration,” Tuchman said. “We’re in new ground, there’s no playbook, Neil. And I went over it with you the last time. There’s no playbook for coming out of a pandemic. No playbook for what’s gone on over the last two and a half years. Let’s think about it. March 2020, the market sold off so radically. We had a rally of 20 percent in 2020. 28 percent in 2021, in the eyes of a global economic shutdown due to the Federal Reserve’s posturing and whatnot.

“And now we’re trying to unwind that position. In tech, and in possible recession, and inflation and supply chain issues. So, there’s no way historically to make a judgment on what the future looks like in that realm, let alone what’s going on in the dis-functionality of what’s happening in Washington. I would like to disengage what’s going on in Washington and try and rebuild the confidence in the market coming into 2023.” 

So while the data might indicate a strong year ahead, the fact is that many analysts still won’t make that definitive call amidst such economic turmoil gripping the country. 

Along with U.S. markets, they remain steadfast in their search for solid footing.

Continue Reading

BNM Writers

Does Radio Need A Video Star?

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

Avatar photo




Last week numerous stories about using video with broadcasting or audio podcasting became a hot topic of discussion.

A Morning Consult poll found that 32% of Americans prefer podcasts with video, compared with 26% who like just audio better. Among podcast listeners, 46% said they favor them with video, compared with 42% who said they would rather listen without video. It’s worth noting that these are podcast listeners, not radio listeners.

Video has become the latest trend in audio. Almost everybody is trying to do some form of video. Many shows already stream online. A few others simulcast on a television or cable channel. It seems nobody believes in pure audio anymore. It’s a wonder everybody didn’t go into television instead of radio.

Before everybody else starts adding webcams in the studio, it’s worth weighing the reasons to move ahead versus slowing down.

The first person to realize they could use video of their show may have been Howard Stern. In June 1994, Stern started a daily half-hour show on E! network, featuring video highlights from his radio show. Stern added slick production values and faster pacing on the E! show.

Don Imus started simulcasting on cable during the same month. It’s possible others that I’m not aware of started earlier.

Stern’s E! show made sense. It answered the most common questions people asked about the show, in addition to what’s he really like; the first questions people usually asked were: 1) Are the women really as good-looking as he says? 2) Do they really take their clothes off? The E! show answered those questions. In addition, it gave a backstage glimpse of the show.

The same month Stern’s E! Show began, Imus began simulcasting his show on cable networks. I would have feared losing ratings. In fact, Imus’ program director did!

I spoke to my long-time friend and colleague Mark Chernoff (Current Managing Director of Mark Chernoff Talent and on-air talent 107.1 The Boss on the NJ Shore, Former Senior VP WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, VP Sports Programming CBS Radio) about the impact simulcasting Imus’ show had on WFAN. Chernoff may have the broadest range of experiences with simulcasting radio programs with video. 

Imus began on CSPAN but shortly afterward moved to MSNBC. Chernoff told me: “When we started simulcasting Imus, I suggested we’d lose about 15% of our radio audience to TV, which we did.” Chernoff added that there was a significant revenue contribution and that the company was content with the trade-off.

WFAN had a different experience simulcasting Mike and the Mad Dog on YES in 2002. “In this case, TV was helpful, and we increased listenership,” said Chernoff. WFAN also benefited financially from this simulcast.

Imus was on in morning drive while Mike & the Mad Dog were on in the afternoon. Keep the era in mind, too. Before smartphones and high-speed streaming, it was not uncommon for people to have televisions in the bed or bathrooms and have the tv on instead of the radio as they got ready for their day. In the afternoon, fewer people would have had video access in that era.

Ratings measurement moved to Portable People Meter (PPM) by the time WFAN started streaming middays on its website. Chernoff reported streaming had no ratings or revenue impact – positive or negative – on middays. However, the company did provide an additional dedicated person to produce the video stream.

The early forays into video by pioneers such as Stern, Imus, and Mike & the Mad Dog are instructive.

There are good reasons to video stream shows. Revenue is a good reason.

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

Another good reason is if the video can answer questions about the show, as the E! show did for Howard Stern.

On the other hand, audio companies are going to throw a lot of money at video, based on the notion that it’s what they “should” do because:

  • It’s the latest trend. Being late on this trend is different from missing the Internet or Podcasting. Industries already revolve around video; television and film come to mind.
  • Podcast listeners like it (by a slight plurality).

Before turning on webcams, see what viewers will see. The studios at many stations I’ve worked at were better not seen. Considerations include; the set, lighting, wardrobe, visuals, and a plan.

Too many video streams of studios feature the fire extinguisher prominently in the shot or the air personalities milling about during terminally long breaks.

Before going live, watch the video with no audio. Is it interesting? Compelling? Does the video draw you in, or is it dull?

With program directors now spread so thin handling multiple stations, a dedicated person to oversee streaming should be a requirement for stations streaming shows.

Other considerations:

  • How could this help us, and how could it hurt us?
  • How does the video enhance the show?
  • Will personalities do their radio show or perform for the cameras?
  • What production values are you able to add to the video?
  • What happens during those seven- eight-minute breaks if it’s a live radio show (vs. a podcast)? What will people streaming video see and hear? Does everybody on the show get along?

Do you have revenue attached? What do you expect will happen to the ratings?

WFAN earned significant revenue for two. Therefore, the company wasn’t concerned when the ratings took a hit for the first one and were surprised when they helped the second one. They didn’t see any impact on ratings or revenue the third time.

After all the budget cuts and workforce reductions over the past decade-plus, before audio companies invest in video, shouldn’t we get: people, marketing, promotion, or research monies back first?

Most of us decided to get into radio (or podcasting) instead of television or film. There’s a reason they said, “video killed the radio star.”

Continue Reading

BNM Writers

Streaming Platforms Cannot Be Forgotten By News/Talk Program Directors

BNM’s Pete Mundo writes that if you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations and what comes through the streaming platforms.





If you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations. Didn’t you know that? Oh. Well, you do. 

I’m not just referring to our over-the-air broadcast but also what comes through our streaming platforms. Alexa, Google Home, apps, computers, etc., are all streaming platforms of our radio stations, which for most of us, are airing different commercial inventory than what is coming through the radio.

I understand none of us are unnecessarily looking to add to our plate, but our streaming platforms are the way we are getting more people to use our product. So neglecting, or forgetting about it, is a bad business decision, especially in the talk space. 

Across all clusters, talk radio is far more likely to have high streaming use when it comes to total listening hours. Listeners are more loyal to our personalities and often can’t get the AM dial in their office buildings during the day, or even if they can, they don’t want to hear our voices through static, so they pull up the stream. 

It’s never been easier to listen to talk radio stations, thanks to our station apps and websites (although welcoming some sites to the 21st century would be a good idea). So, given the challenges many of us face on the AM band, why not push our audience to the stream and make sure the stream sounds just as good as the over-the-air product?

The tricky part in putting together a quality stream sound is trying to balance what ads are programmatic, which ones are sold locally, where is the unfilled inventory and what is filling that gap?

And unlike your over-the-air product, where you can go into a studio, see what’s coming up, and move inventory around, that technology is not available in most cases. So yes, it’s a guessing game.

But as the talk climate continues to change, the best thing we can do to build our brand and trust with the next generation of talk radio listeners is to find them and engage them where they are, which may not always be next to a physical radio. That will be on a stream. How do I know that? Because if they have a smartphone, they have (access to) the stream.

Of course, the over-the-air product remains the massive revenue generator for our stations, as in most cases, the streaming revenue is not close to comparable. But then, if we look years down the road, that will likely start to change. 

To what degree? That’s unknown. But double-digit growth on an annual basis should not be out of the question when it comes to stream listening. It should be a very achievable goal, especially in our format. So our listeners who are P1’s, love the station and want to consume as much of the content as they can, can be on the AirPods in the gym, desk at work, or in their home office and listen to our radio stations. 

Heck, with Alexa and Google Home, they don’t even have to turn a dial! They just speak. So if they’re there, let’s keep them there.

There are simply too many media options today to lose our listeners due to sloppy streaming quality that makes us sound like a college radio station. Instead, listeners, who find us there should be rewarded with a listening experience that is just as high-quality as what they would get on the AM or FM band.

And if we play our cards right, it will be better, serving the industry incredibly well through a new generation of listeners.

Continue Reading


Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2023 Barrett Media.