Wonder Women of New York 2023: Kate O’Brian

Kate O'Brian
Kate O’Brian (Image credit: Scripps)

Kate O’Brian has had a busy couple years with Scripps, including the relaunch of news brand Newsy to a meatier 24/7 national network known as Scripps News. That saw the network expand from two hours of original content a day to 15 hours, with longform specials and investigations. 

Scripps News came to be January 1. “The mandate was to turn it into a 24/7 news operation, and we did it in five months,” she said. “I can’t believe we did it, but we did.”

In addition to Scripps News, O’Brian oversees Court TV, which saw robust ratings in 2022 (“a nice assist from Johnny Depp and Amber Heard,” O’Brian said), and is off to a strong start in 2023, thanks in large part to South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial. She also works with the Scripps TV stations to complement their news output with Scripps News, and complement the network’s output with local reportage from the stations. 

Network News Vet

Before coming on board at Scripps in April 2021, O’Brian spent 33 years at ABC News in a number of roles, including senior VP of news, programming general manager at ABC News Radio, producer at World News Tonight and field producer in Rome and London. 

O’Brian departed ABC News in 2013 to be president of Al Jazeera America. “I never expected to go anyplace else,” she said. “But it was really too good to pass up.”

Al Jazeera America folded in spring 2016, which O’Brian described as “heartbreaking.” She was a news consultant before joining Scripps. 

E.W. Scripps president and CEO Adam Symson knew O’Brian from their meetings in New York, with Symson representing the group’s ABC affiliates and O’Brian with ABC News One. “For a long time, I’ve been a Kate O’Brian fan,” he said. “When we were looking at putting more resources behind the company objective, Kate O’Brian was literally my first call.”

The mandate was to turn it into a 24/7 news operation, and we did it in five months. I can’t believe we did it, but we did.”

— Kate O’Brian

Symson noted that, for the first time in Scripps’s 144-year history, a journalism leader reports to the CEO. He called it “an interesting moment.”

The Scripps News rebrand, besides building out a full-fledged news network, came down to ensuring that venerable corporate name was better represented in the brand. “This is a company that was born into journalism,” O’Brian said. “This is a company that has been at the forefront of responsible journalism for its 144 years. Why wouldn’t we want to have that name attached to this product?”

Scripps News avoids punditry and sticks to facts. O’Brian described the approach as “aggressively right in the middle, assertively right in the middle.” 

She mentioned a “very, very, very strong integrated relationship” between Scripps News and the 61 Scripps stations, a partnership that will get closer in 2023. “We air their content, they air our content,” she said. “We have our reporters live on their air, and they have their reporters live on
our air.”

Scripps News content is free on all platforms except cable. Based in Atlanta, its reporters are on one side of a newsroom O’Brian described as the size of a football field, with Court TV staff on the other side. “We really work to make sure we’re integrated in terms of newsgathering,” she said. “We’re part of the same family.”

Symson credited O’Brian for upping the quality level at both networks. “The bar Kate set was paramount for us to take this next step,” he said. “I am exceptionally proud of the level of quality we put out every day.”

News Biz a Family Affair

While she’s often in Atlanta, O’Brian splits her time between New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. Reporting is in her blood. Her father was a newspaper columnist, her sister is at CNN and one of her daughters is at Dow Jones. 

O’Brian got her start in TV news as an intern at 20/20. “Sitting in the production room, watching how the video and the scripts went together,” she said, “I realized, oh my god, this is what I want to be doing.”

Decades later, O’Brian is running a major news operation. “It’s a company filled with people who really care about not just the journalism, but the culture, their co-workers, about doing good in the world,” she said. “Plenty of companies say they do all those things, but I’ve never been part of a company that really exhibits all of that right up front.” ▪️

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.