Cornerstone League's Caroline Willard (left) and award-winning journalist Soledad O'Brien in conversation at GAC.

'The heartbeat of a community'

Credit unions promote 'the sense of belonging in a community,' says Soledad O’Brien.

March 4, 2021

Soledad O’Brien can remember the story that marked a shift in how she thought about journalism. 

The award-winning journalist, author, and documentarian says that covering Hurricane Katrina and the experiences of affected communities illuminated the purpose of her role. 

“It so clearly became a job about service,” she says. “Journalism is about serving people. We’re supposed to provide factual, accurate information and listen to people.” 

O’Brien joined Cornerstone League President/CEO Caroline Willard in conversation Wednesday at the 2021 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference

Like journalists, credit union leaders, staff, and volunteers serve an important community purpose. “I love that my job has a mission,” O’Brien says. “On rough days, you can fall back on that.” 

People who work in organizations that build communities are more satisfied, O’Brien points out. She suggests connecting with that meaning to find greater happiness at work. “Lean into the passionate part of the gig,” she says.  

O’Brien also addressed the current media landscape and its impact on communities. “One of the biggest downsides of losing local print journalism is that you lose the idea that you’re in the community.” 

The typical cable news format of “classic partisan debates” erodes public trust, she says. “The framing of stories as left versus right is frequently inaccurate and inappropriate. Until you figure out how to go back to serving people, I don’t think you’re going to get that sense of trust.” 

O’Brien follows a different approach on her syndicated policy show, “Matter of Fact.” With about two million viewers, the show digs deeper into issues through “solutions journalism.” 

“There’s a lot of value in stepping back,” she says. “When you talk about the cost of insulin or housing, it’s not a left-right issue. It affects everybody.” 

O’Brien also strives for a range of perspectives on the show, taking an intentional approach to booking guests that are “as diverse as America.” 

Through her coverage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, O’Brien identifies the work of credit unions as necessary to preserve “livable and pleasant” communities. Credit unions and those they support are “the heartbeat of a community.” 

Promoting financial well-being for all requires honesty and a desire to help people in the macro, she says. Credit unions must foster investment conversations rather than transactional ones. 

“Communities are living organisms,” she says. “They grow and thrive when people are in there investing.”

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