O'Brien encourages diversity in journalism
Sunday, October 30, 2005, 18:38 EST
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Dawgnet photo by Sarah HillSoledad O'Brien visited with Butler students, faculty and guests at a dinner hosted at the residence of President Bobby and Suzanne Fong before the lecture.
Soledad O�Brien, one of six children, is now an anchor for CNN�s "American Morning" with a distinguished career in broadcast journalism. Of Latino, Irish and African-American descent, O�Brien discussed diversity with Butler students on Oct. 26 as part of the Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series.
�It is critical that we talk of true diversity,� O�Brien said, and not just about blacks or Hispanics.
O�Brien�s parents emphasized to their children early on �to work around obstacles.�
�My parents weren�t much for protests, but they went around obstacles in their own way,� O�Brien said.
Ever since she entered the newsroom, O�Brien has heard she is not black enough, her name is too ethnic and that she was only hired because she was black. Her mother�s advice proved useful again; �what other people consider me means very little.�
Her position has another side though; O�Brien has become a role model for journalists of all ethnic backgrounds.
�I�ve found I could become a role model because I�m hard to categorize,� she said.
This ambiguity has led to some awkward moments. When O�Brien met former vice president Al Gore, �I said something like, �Hi, Mr. Vice President!� and he answered me in Spanish.� He answered her next question in Spanish as well.
�And I thought �This is awkward; my Spanish isn�t very good,'� O�Brien said. �He clearly isn�t aware where I fit.�
O�Brien sees diversity issues in her reporting as well. She cited both Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami as two stories that demanded a look at diversity.
Poll numbers taken after Hurricane Katrina showed �a huge divergence between how African Americans saw it and how white people did,� O�Brien said. Seventy percent of African Americans saw the aftermath of the hurricane as a race issue, while only 30 percent of whites thought it was a race issue.
The hurricane, O�Brien said, has made America say, �No longer will we stand by a double box,� and hear one thing and see another.
�Working at CNN has really redefined diversity in journalism for me,� O�Brien said. Covering the Tsunami for CNN had a powerful effect on O�Brien.
�Even when you couldn�t understand everything [the victims] said, you could understand the story of the human condition,� she said. �These were not voices of Americans, but they were the stories that gripped our hearts, because they are human beings and they matter. That�s what diversity is all about.�