What is your role in the company?
I’m the senior executive producer of America Tonight, the channel’s flagship program. It’s a nightly in-depth program that focuses on stories across America as well as globally. We’ll be going in-depth by focusing on the character-driven stories that get at larger issues that face people in the country today.
What is a typical day in the office like for you?
I spend about 80 percent of my time hiring staff for America Tonight. As we launch the channel, we need to focus on finding all the right people to fit the program. So a lot of it is looking through resumes and meeting with people face-to-face to get them hired.
What will your day-to-day process be like once Al Jazeera America launches?
Once we launch, I’ll be the person who helps take the show to air every night. All of this is subject to change, of course, as we figure out what really works for the team and get a sense of what’s happening out in the news from our wires and from talking to our people in New York. I’ll have a morning meeting with my staff every day, and then I’ll come in sometime around midday and we’ll have a rundown meeting to talk through what the show is going to look like that day. The show will air at 9 p.m., so everything until that time will be about pre-production. And then I’ll carve out some time to look at what the next day and what the balance of the week look like. It’s an ongoing process that never really ends.
What’s the most exciting project that you are currently working on?
There’s nothing bigger than the launch right now. What’s really exciting is that we went out to cover our first stories this week. That was a huge step for us because when I walked in here in late April, we just had five people on our staff. We had no equipment, no setup, no other staffers and no camera people. Now, six weeks later, we’re actually already sending people out on stories. That lets us know that we can start to focus on what making the show is really going to be like. The hiring part of it is the most critical part, but the fact that we have already started making television and have gone out in the last few days on real stories is monumental for us.
Is there anything you can tell me about the stories you’ve been working on in the past few days?
We’re taking an inside-out look at health care reform and what it’s really going to mean for Americans. We’re focusing on the human aspect of the story instead of the politics, though. We know that there are people who are going to look at the Affordable Care Act pretty critically, but we found some really great characters on both sides. We have set a very high bar for ourselves here at “America Tonight.” Part of that is to tell stories that we think are urgent, important and entertaining. We want to make sure that the storytelling in our show is at the forefront of the program. That’s what’s most important to us. There are lots of stories out there that are happening globally, but what will make our coverage unique is the approach that we take to that storytelling.
What is the most rigorous assignment you have ever taken on?
I would have to say that the assignment that had the most impact on my life was Hurricane Katrina because I was leading coverage of the biggest man-made weather disaster in American history, and I myself was a victim of that storm. I’m from New Orleans, and I have a home there that was destroyed in the storm. So it was a very personal story for me, and it was very hard just because the story continued for days and I had to constantly revisit it. There’s no story for me that’s bigger than Hurricane Katrina. That was a huge undertaking that sticks in my mind as being extremely rigorous.
How did you get to this point in your career?
I always knew what I wanted to do in this business and I just set goals along the way. I wanted to do something that was satisfying to me from a career perspective but also from a personal perspective. I then took a seven-year break from the everyday news business because I wanted to have time to do some other things in my life and try some new things, like working toward my MBA. That was important to me personally. Balancing what’s best for my career and my personal life is a very hard thing to do, especially if you choose to be in the news business.
What are some challenges that you feel you will have to face in this new endeavor?
The biggest challenge is time — we have a lot of work to do between now and the launch. But we will get there.
What do you see Al Jazeera America bringing to the American news conversation?
We will take an in-depth view on stories and issues that Americans will relate to. We want to take full advantage of our resources and meet the American people where they are. And, of course, we will bring Al Jazeera America’s mission of great storytelling to everything we do.
What steps do you think Al Jazeera America needs to take to gain the attention and trust of the American public?
I think we need to let our work speak for itself. Al Jazeera America is going to fill the void of good storytelling that exists in American news. We know that viewers will abandon their negative assumptions about the channel once they see the quality of the programming.
What other news sources do you follow?
I read everything that’s online, from The Huffington Post to Al Jazeera’s webpage to CNN.com to ABC News — all of those very standard ones. I read a fair amount of local news as well. I just moved here to Washington, D.C., so I’m trying to get to know Washington through reading The Washington Post. I also watch a fair amount of morning television because it’s really the only time in my day that I can focus on stories. So I’ve been watching a lot of “CBS This Morning” because I just think they’re doing a great job of hitting some of the stories that are really interesting and important.
What is your favorite book?
There are so many I love! But right now I’m reading a book I’ve read a couple of times. The title is “The Next Big Story,” and it was written by my best friend, Soledad O’Brien. Part of the reason I’ve read that book a number of times — besides the fact that I’m in it a lot — is because it’s a great story of one journalist’s work. She and I worked together for many years, so it reminds me of stories we worked on and issues we faced together. It’s a great story for journalists because she does a great job of weaving in lessons she’s learned through the people she’s met. And it reminds me now why I decided to come back to this business and why I have a passion for storytelling.