Q&A: Soledad O'Brien Is Back on TV and Wants to Get to the Facts

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Soledad O'Brien began hosting the syndicated 'Matter of Fact' this fall.
Soledad O'Brien began hosting the syndicated 'Matter of Fact' this fall. Credit: Starfish Media Group

As fake news overtakes the internet and feelings are mistaken for reality, Soledad O'Brien is looking to bring the facts back to the forefront.

The former CNN and MSNBC anchor returned to TV news this fall as the host of the syndicated "Matter of Fact," a weekly, half-hour, political talk show shot at of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Ms. O'Brien took over the second season of "Matter of Fact" from Fernando Espuelas in September, just in time for the last leg of what can only be described as a bizarre presidential race.

The goal of the show is to fill the gap in political reporting, Ms. O'Brien said, bringing the conversation out of solely being focused on the east and west coast.

"Matter of Fact," which airs on Sunday morning on local stations in 75% of the country, is Ms. O'Brien's first foray back into TV news after spending three years building her media production company Starfish Media Group, which works to tell stories of those under-represented in media.

Ad Age spoke with Ms. O'Brien about her return to the anchor desk, media's role in the presidential election and the future of journalism under President-Elect Donald Trump. This interview has been lightly edited.

Advertising Age: Why is "Matter of Fact" the right fit for you at this time?

Soledad O'Brien: I really like the idea of having a platform to talk political issues without people screaming at each other. At the end of the day we are not getting a rational, thoughtful discussion of the issues.

We spent an episode discussing the Electoral College. It was a thoughtful piece, a straightforward look. We took a real walk through history, how we got here and the impact. These are just the facts of the matter versus people shouting.

Ad Age: What is your opinion on the media coverage of the presidential election?

Ms. O'Brien: Media helped promote the normalization of white supremacy. You can do stories without giving people a platform to shout horrible things and then not hold them accountable.

Ad Age: How is "Matter of Fact" doing things differently?

Ms. O'Brien: We are talking to all races and political ideology. We don't phrase things like this is a Democratic issue or this is a Republican issue. We need to have conversations that illuminate other parts of the countries for the people who don't live there. I really think it is about the guests you book. I don't give analysis. I ask questions and find relevant people to interview.

I don't think you have to be fact-based or not fact-based. You dig into data and layer in how people are feeling. You can't just say the economy is improving when you sit down and talk to people who say no it's not. We need to understand their reality. Feeling and fact are not necessarily in opposition. It's the job of a journalist to dig into the spaces where those two things don't match up and understand why. We need to open up and listen. I don't think any of that has really changed.

Ad Age: Now that Donald Trump is President-elect, how must the media approach covering his presidency?

Ms. O'Brien: I don't think every story needs to be generated out of the office of the president. The key has always been to find real people to tell their stories. There's a lot of experts, but we need to hear from the people.

It is naïve to think this election was just about misogyny or racism. That's overly simplified and people are complex. There are a lot of issues people vote on. I like to talk to people instead of quote experts about people.

Ad Age: It's been three years since you started your production company Starfish Media. What is your goal there?

Ms. O'Brien: As a production company we tackle some of these stories and issues Americans face -- the untold stories on veterans and race. Traditionally if you can get a story about veterans on TV it has to be a terrible story. But we need to tell the stories of their real life. People need to understand the policy issues.

Ad Age: How has the changes in the way people are consuming media influenced how you go about creating content?

Ms. O'Brien: It's a great time. So many things are decentralized. Production companies like ours tell stories in different ways. We see so many people interested in exploring different platforms. They want to get to as many platforms as possible. You can't just put a documentary out there and say "come watch." You have to look to slice it in different ways to leverage across platforms. Three years ago when I started the company the talent worked for the network. But those days are over.

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