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How Soledad O’Brien’s New TV Show Is Making Politics Personal

Soledad O’Brien is returning to your TV this Saturday.

After taking the past three years to focus on her media production and distribution company, Starfish Media Group, the Emmy-winning journalist is diving back into television with a weekly, half-hour political talk show called Matter of Fact, which premieres with the anchor this Saturday.

She is taking over the show, which is going into its second season, from Fernando Espuelas. A co-production between O’Brien and Hearst Television, Matter of Fact will air on local Hearst stations as well as those owned by CBS, Meredith, Nexstar, E.W. Scripps, Tegna and Tribune.

Fortune sat down with the former MSNBC and CNN anchor to talk about what we can expect from the show, her new life as an entrepreneur, and what’s missing from political news today—and how she plans to fill that void.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: You have so many options at this point in your career. Why a political show? Why now?

Soledad O’Brien: I think of politics as everything. I think we in TV news think of politics as: There are people on the left, there are people on the right, and every so often we’ll throw in some independent voices. I think politics is so much more than that. Politics is whether or not your street gets paved. Does your kid go to a good school or a shitty school?

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Our mission…is elevating the voices that are underheard. So if we’re going to do something on 9/11, what is our version of elevating the events? Not just: ‘It was a day like any other…’ Instead, what we would do is, ‘What’s the conversation we want to have around ISIS and what Homeland Security wants to do.’

So is there a conversation that you feel isn’t happening?

When I’m watching [political shows], I feel like they’re not talking to me. They’re talking to themselves. They’re talking to my dad, who’s an older white man. I have a sense that there are other voices. There are other people who have interesting and compelling things to say. It doesn’t have to be radical. I just want to say what someone [other than an older white men] has to say. If we have an agenda it’s that: to elevate a different voice.


Your father is white and mother is Cuban. How has your background affected your reporting? Has it been an advantage?

Definitely an advantage—everyone feels like you’re having an authentic conversation. I’m an insider and an outsider all at the same time, which is an unusual position to be in. [People] know I’m not asking [racially sensitive questions] to provoke or be disrespectful. I’m genuinely interested in these questions. I think people—when you come at it really authentically—respond really well. I think there’s something to asking people straight out.

It’s been a little over three years since you launched Starfish. What’s that been like?

The first year was really challenging. I would come home and say, ‘I would love a day when I didn’t learn anything.’ It was really hard because my learning curve was [really steep]. I’m lucky because my husband is in finance so he helped me figure out the strategy, figure out things like, do I want investors?

So do you?

We had interest from investors right away, but I decided that I only want to be responsible to me. I only want to do the stories that I want to do. So, we self-fund and we’ve been pretty successful in doing that—knock on wood. [I may change my mind] if we’re going to scale, though I’m not ready to do that yet. I used to think, ‘Amazing! Someone gives you a chunk of money to run your company.’ But actually, it’s someone takes a giant piece of your company and every decision is suddenly, ‘But let me call Bob.’ And I only work with the people I want to work with.

What was the hardest thing about going from journalist to entrepreneur?

The hardest thing is telling people you’re a CEO when you don’t really know quite what that means. It wasn’t until I was a year in that I was like, ‘Yes, I am running all this shit. I am the CEO.’

How did you come to that realization?

It’s like when you have kids. In the beginning, it’s 30% great and 70% miserable. But over time it shifts and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, this is 70% great and 30% miserable.’ And it was kind of like that. All of a sudden, you sort of just figure it out. The good news is I never made the same mistake twice, so you just start figuring it out. That’s just a process.

But it’s been a great experience, because it’s been a long time since I’ve gone into something not knowing anything. Journalism doesn’t train you for this stuff. I’ve never done a real budget—one where you’re losing your money, not CNN’s money—and I didn’t really know anything about finance. But when you start dealing with your own money, you suddenly get a PhD in finance.

There’s a theory that a lot of women shy away from entrepreneurship because they feel like they don’t “understand” money. Does this ring true for you?

I actually think it’s more because the stakes are so high. If you’re a woman and you fail—it’s like, that’s it. For men, they can fail terribly, but they can cycle back around. Name for me the number of women who have come back from a huge failure. It goes back to that old adage that men have to be 60% certain before they raise their hand, but women have to be 90%. But that’s because there’s a cost. The guy can say, ‘Dude, my bad.’ But for the woman, everyone turns around and is like, ‘She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’ And that literally has a cost to her career.

Has that been true for you personally?

I’ve always been hyper-prepared. I would never just show up to a meeting and not be read up on the material. I was obscenely prepared for interviews. I think there’s an element of, ‘I just don’t think I’ll get a second chance.’ There’s a higher standard for women.

Has this translated into the kind of CEO you are?

I tend to take more risks now. It’s my money, so that really frees you up to take risks. I’m also older, and my goal in life is to really enjoy it. I want to enjoy the work, I want to enjoy the people, I want to enjoy my family. I want to do what I care about.

So what is it that you really care about now?

Our big theme, which is what we came up with when we started [Starfish], is to look at entire systems of equality and inequality. Justice and lack of justice. Wealth and poverty. How all these things connect. Those things to me are the stories of everything.