Cover image for The next big story : my journey through the land of possibilities
The next big story : my journey through the land of possibilities
Publication Information:
New York : New American Library, c2010.
Physical Description:
321 p. ; 24 cm.
My life of perpetual motion -- Getting started -- A place at the table -- Finding my voice -- An ax to break out -- Words to change a nation -- Black in America -- Not Black enough -- Latino in America -- A voice in the debate -- One chance to succeed -- Mission to Haiti -- The lighthouse -- Rescued -- My home town.
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Book 921 OBRIEN 1 1

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An intimate look behind the CNN journalist's most compelling reporting moments and how it has shaped her perspective on America's future.

"Story is our medium. It's how we connect emotionally with our viewers. And it's how we make sense of our world...When we talk about a 'big story,' we're really talking about what resonates with people, what matters to them...And I think when it comes to our national narrative, what we need to realize is that we're all contributing to the story, that we can affect where this country is going."

From top CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien comes a highly personal look at her biggest reporting moments from Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, the devastating Haiti earthquake to the historic elections and high profile interviews with everyday Americans. Drawing on her own unique background and consciousness as well as her experiences as a journalist at the front lines of the most provocative issues in today's society-and particularly from her work as host of the acclaimed series Black in America and Latino in America -O'Brien offers her candid, clear-eyed take on where we are as a country and where we're going.

What emerges is both an inspiring message of hope and a glimpse into the heart and soul of one of America's most straight-talking reporters.

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Author Notes

Soledad O'Brien is a CNN anchor and correspondent who has produced the award-winning documentaries Black in America and Escape from Jonestown . Her awards include the Emmy, Peabody, DuPont, Gracie Allen, Clara Barton, Hispanic Heritage, and NAACP President's Awards, among others.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Though a famous CNN anchor and special correspondent who has reported extensively on Hurricane Katrina, Haiti, and beyond, O'Brien ultimately found her true reporting passion in examining race in America. In chapters such as "Black in America," "Not Black Enough," and "Latino in America," O'Brien writes about growing up in a mixed race family, astutely discussing the complexities of racial identity in America. In telling her story, O'Brien reveals her ambition, dedication, and empathy, but her stubborn resolution to remain in the present tense, though it certainly keeps her "moving forward" (a recurring theme), is also awkward and often jarring. Moreover, O'Brien covers an amazing amount of ground but rarely stops to linger, particularly when skimming over her early career. When she reaches her experience covering the recent Haitian earthquake and her special reports on race in America, however, she hits her stride, in part because she takes the time to make readers understand and empathize. O'Brien has enough material for multiple volumes and indeed, some readers may wish she'd told her life story in more than one book. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

O'Brien is the child of a black Cuban mother and white Australian father, and her mixed-race heritage informed every step of her personal and professional voyage, one that took her from an isolated suburban Long Island childhood to the catbird's seat at CNN's anchor desk. Acknowledging the distinctive sensibility she brings to her coverage of the day's most divisive and dramatic events, O'Brien chronicles her early years in broadcast journalism as well as her present position as one of cable news' most respected correspondents. To reveal how her story affects her approach to the people and subjects she covers, O'Brien shares a worldview that is rooted in diversity and communicated with compassion. By breaking down cataclysmic events such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes into individual episodes of suffering, strength, and survival, O'Brien swiftly transforms the overwhelming into the understandable. Impassioned yet intimate, O'Brien's electrifying memoir demonstrates her instinctive responsibility to present each crisis as a sacred opportunity to illuminate and educate her viewers.--Haggas, Carol Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

THE CNN reporter Soledad O'Brien is the daughter of a white Australian father and a black Cuban mother. This heritage bequeathed her an immigrant's ideals about America's promise, as well as a striking appearance that has shaped her experience of "the land of possibilities." Both these themes - her roots and her looks - run through O'Brien's memoir, "The Next Big Story," as she charts her lifelong effort to forge a singular identity out of her biracial background. Her account, written with Rose Marie Arce, is also a reporter's reflection on the television news business, which in the span of her 22-year career has swung from largely ignoring issues of race to often stoking prejudice with bombastic, personality-driven coverage. By the time O'Brien attended high school in the 1980s, the racism her parents had faced two decades earlier (they'd lived in Baltimore but had to marry in Washington because interracial marriage was banned in Maryland) had mellowed. Yet in suburban, middle-class Long Island, O'Brien's appearance (origins unclear, but nonwhiteness evident) marked her as undatable in a school where race silently mattered. O'Brien went on to study at Harvard but left before graduating, enamored with journalism after an internship at a Boston TV station (though she did finish her degree years later). Soon she landed at the NBC affiliate in San Francisco, where as Oakland bureau chief she stewed with frustration covering neighborhoods whose problems, stemming from deep poverty, got short shrift in the media. Her bosses didn't like being lectured on what to cover, and she lacked the clout to pitch stories more difficult than the usual schools-and-drug-bust fare. What happened next was something many journalists can relate to: realizing that her anger connected her to the story but was a liability in the newsroom, O'Brien embarked on a quest to build the stature she needed to tackle controversial subjects. Today, it is clear she has been altered by the process, her anger polished down to the point where she is now the establishment big shot frustrating young activists and critics. O'Brien's experiences reporting on disasters, particularly Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, unfold in riveting detail, but their enormity seems to overpower her. She vows to pack away cans of tuna, concludes sanguinely that America is a "land of individuals, not institutions," and directs her reporting to profiles of courageous individuals. While her desire to avoid wallowing in bleakness is fair, her insistence on sounding a chicken-soupy note of hope brings a caffeinated morning anchor perkiness to stories that demand deeper context and sharper articulations of accountability. "The Next Big Story" is at its perceptive best when O'Brien grapples with race and immigration. She writes of her former CNN colleague Lou Dobbs with a calculated diplomacy, but her overview of his reporting leaves the distinct sense that CNN sought to play it both ways: expand its audience through programs like O'Brien's "Latino in America," while reaping the ratings benefit of Dobbs's anti-immigrant vitriol and sizable fan base. In a book that often treats issues of race candidly, however, O'Brien turns naïf when dealing with critics who question whether she is "black enough" to report the documentary series "Black in America." She writes that "the big surprise for me about skin color is that it matters so much to black people," as though shades of blackness haven't been central to African-Americans' experience of racism for centuries. She is particularly indignant after an encounter with the Rev. Jesse Jackson: complaining about the dearth of black anchors at CNN, he told her, "You don't count." Later, he acknowledged to her that he didn't know she was black. But his dismissal reflects how the quest for representation in minority communities can devolve into cliquishness; those who don't belong, or don't look as if they belong, are left feeling irrelevant to the cause. As memoir, O'Brien's book keeps the reader at a distance. If her chaotic job has ever strained her family life, we don't learn about it here. Although she takes a discreet shot at "heroic action figure" colleagues for their eagerness to cover wars and disasters, she remains very much the heroic action figure on the news front, propelling herself into the next big story. Azadeh Moaveni is a former correspondent for Time and the author, most recently, of "Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran."

Library Journal Review

Daughter of a white Australian father and a black Latina mother from Cuba, CNN's O'Brien (along with her producer, Arce) recounts her youth in New York's mostly white Smithtown, Long Island, and the development of her identity and ambition. She attended Harvard but quit to pursue a television career (she later finished her degree). The early part of the book focuses on the strength of her large family and has a positive outlook on issues of ethnicity. O'Brien then discusses the importance of mentors and her climb to CNN anchor. Finally, she writes about Katrina, Haiti, and the making of her TV documentaries, Black in America and Latino in America. Verdict O'Brien's memoir starts strong as she relates her desire to reach her goals but weakens as she goes on-her effort to tackle tough issues can seem simplistic. Overall, a good choice for young women and teens interested in careers in television journalism and for O'Brien's fans.-Barb Kundanis, Longmont P.L., CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I am crammed in an uncomfortable little stick-shift car climbing over the edge of the Patagonia region of Argentina into Chile. It is the middle of the night and these huge bare trees with peeling white bark stand out against the sky like creepy phantoms. We swing left and right, zigging and zagging, up, up, up, past a forest of ghosts. I've been diverted by CNN from reporting in Haiti to cover an earthquake in Chile. I have flown through Miami, Panama, Lima, São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Bariloche in twenty-four hours to end up on this mountain road. The plan is to enter the disaster zone by land because the Chilean airports are closed. We finally hang a hard left turn and climb over the top of the last big mountain. A huge white ball rises above the landscape and lights up the night. I have never seen a moon so large, so round and so close, floating in vast black space like a beacon for travelers. My journey as a journalist takes me to places of great beauty and deep sorrow. I never know what or who will emerge past the next turn. I just know that being a reporter has given me a unique opportunity to bear witness to the humanity of another moment, to follow the magnetic pull of a bright moon into uncharted territory. In a few hours, I will walk the streets of Concepción, Chile, and see looters thrown down by water cannons. I will sleep stranded by a roadside as the earth rocks from aftershocks. I will tell the world via satellite that help needs to be on the way. I will once again see people rescued from disaster, not by nations or organizations, but by the kindness of a stranger who decides to reach out beyond themselves. I will record the latest opportunity in life to do right by each other during the worst of times. I have told this story in places as far-flung as Thailand, New Orleans, and Port-au-Prince. Bad things happen until good people get in the way. I learned this life lesson growing up in Smithtown, Long Island, and I see it almost everywhere I go in pursuit of the next big story of the moment. People have an incredible potential to do good and make good and seize good from bad if they will only make the choice to do it. I have had that same chance many times over and I am so thankful for the opportunity. I began life as the child of a mixed-race marriage growing up in a white suburb, treated sometimes as a creature of bad circumstance. My immigrant parents made sure I had the potential to capture my American dream anyway. I was handed a life of possibilities. That experience left me with the urge to chart how those around us get their chance at life and whether they go on to share their good fortune with others when the time comes. So often I am disappointed one minute only to be elated the next. In Concepción, I see adults whose homes and lives were spared by an earthquake trolling a shopping mall to steal cell phones. Then, a block away, a line of volunteers work all night to clear the way for rescuers to pull total strangers from the rubble of a building. You can be a looter or you can be a lifeline. The choice is yours. That is often what I report. I am lucky. I get to leave Chile in its crisis. I return home by barreling through the chilly skies above the Andes on a Peruvian police transport plane. I ache from the bitter cold and loud buzz that shakes my senses. But the pretty moon shines slices of light through the windows. There is always good with bad. It's all in how your mind wraps around the moment. I think of the people lifting those heavy blocks of rock to help out no one in particular. I look to the part of the journey that reveals the best in us. I always try to remember the beautiful moon and how it draws me back home and then out again on the next assignment. Excerpted from The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities by Soledad O'Brien, Rose Marie Arce All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 My Life of Perpetual Motionp. 7
Chapter 2 Getting Startedp. 35
Chapter 3 A Place at the Tablep. 49
Chapter 4 Finding My Voicep. 71
Chapter 5 An Ax to Break Outp. 95
Chapter 6 Words to Change a Nationp. 135
Chapter 7 Black in Americap. 151
Chapter 8 Not Black Enoughp. 173
Chapter 9 Latino in Americap. 187
Chapter 10 A Voice in the Debatep. 205
Chapter 11 One Chance to Succeedp. 227
Chapter 12 Mission to Haitip. 239
Chapter 13 The Lighthousep. 263
Chapter 14 Rescuedp. 283
Chapter 15 Going Homep. 307
Acknowledgmentsp. 317