Isa Soares. Credits: CNN.

Isa Soares. Credits: CNN.

Media dialogues — Isa Soares
An award-winning international correspondent and anchor based in CNN's London bureau. She hosts "Isa Soares Tonight", which airs weeknights at 2pm ET
17 Aug 2023

This article is part of a series of interviews with people who work in the media to provide the news and views that shape our perception of world affairs. Isa Soares spoke to UN Today about her life and career in television.

What is your professional background?

Perhaps no longer the norm, but I belong in the category of old school journalists who didn’t study journalism at university. Instead, I learnt it on the job.

I studied Lusophone with Hispanic Studies for my undergraduate degree, but I knew that my studies wouldn’t end there. I had actually wanted to be a diplomat, but then 9/11 shook the world- an image that remains etched in my memory; an attack that changed America and beyond. As the attack reverberated across borders, I decided to do a MSc in International Relations with Economics. The course explored what at the time was considered the new world threat — extremism and radicalization. What followed was the ‘war on terror’, a declaration by President W. Bush that changed the landscape of the Arab world from Iraq to Afghanistan. It was a fascinating time to be studying international relations.

As I finalised my thesis on Angola’s 27-year civil war, I interned at CNN, working my way up: from writer to producer, then reporter to correspondent, and now anchor of my own primetime show Isa Soares Tonight. I still believe there’s no better way to learn than by being hands on; learning from those around you and those that came before you.  Over the years at CNN, I worked as a field producer in some of the toughest assignments, and inside control rooms as a show producer; so I understand the challenges of reporting under pressure, and the importance of making a story digestible to an international audience. I feel privileged to have worked in both fields — it only makes me a stronger and better-rounded journalist. 

Climate crisis, Isa Soares Tonight on CNN.

What is the best interview you have ever done?

Over the years, I have interviewed many Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs and sports icons — Pelé and Rafael Nadal to name just a few — but the best interviews, in my opinion, are the ones that tell of a lived experience or a sense of truth that has been revealed.

My favourite interview to date is one that tells of love and loss. I met 70-year-old Paraskeviya Vysotska during my time in Ukraine last year and I was instantly absorbed by her haunting display of grief. We spoke for hours, mainly about her family, and how each member had been devastated by war in different ways.

Paraskeviya lost her grandson, daughter and son-in-law defending Ukraine. In fact, Her daughter, who was fighting inside Azovstal, died days after I spoke with her. We called her after that and her grief was immeasurable. 

What made this such a good interview was her simultaneous strength and fragility — she was a woman who had lived through interrogation at the hands of the USSR, and who now stands firm against the atrocities being committed against her family and her people, yet she was so open and so vulnerable with me in sharing her story. She was a truly admirable lady, and even a year on I think of her often and wonder how she’s holding up. That interview and her words painted a very visceral and haunting portrait of war, I thought.

Earlier this year I spoke with a photographer called Anastasia Taylor-Lind, who had spent months in Ukraine photographing soldiers and civilians on the frontlines of war. I loved that conversation too because her work really captured and conveyed that same lived experience of war from the perspective of ordinary people.

But it’s been a busy year and the news cycle has provided me with the opportunity to speak to so many key players – in the past few months alone I’ve spoken with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the President of Serbia, The President of Georgia, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, the former Prime Minister of Israel and the French Finance Minister to name just a few. Hearing directly from such key players in global affairs is a total privilege that I’ll never take for granted.

French Pension Reform, Isa Soares Tonight on CNN.

What is the interview you’d like to do but haven’t been able to yet?

I think right now most journalists would want an interview with President Putin — an opportunity to ask some uncomfortable questions and go inside his mind, though I doubt we would get much out of him other than hear about his warped vision and his imperialist ambitions.

Staying with the war in Ukraine, I would also love to have a long sit-down interview with former German chancellor Angela Merkel, on the war in Ukraine, NATO, and Putin. Would she defend her decisions vis a vis Russia? Did she trust Putin too much? Did she get it wrong when it came to the business-led relations with him? Could she have stopped Putin invading Ukraine? What would she say to him today if she were Chancellor? Where does she see the biggest threats right now?

I’m also keen to interview leaders from South America, many of whom have largely avoided picking sides in the war. Brazilian President Lula is currently on my list. I interviewed him once ahead of the presidential elections back in 2022, but I want to ask him now about how he sees his role in trying to bring peace to Ukraine. Also on my list but potentially harder to interview, are the leaders of Nicaragua and Honduras (among others) — some of the countries that have severed relations with Taiwan in return for investment from Beijing. This speaks to Beijing’s growing clout in the world and highlights the chess pieces it’s laying out vis a vis Taiwan.

To be honest, there are so many more people I’d love to hear from, and it’s one of the great privileges of my job that I’m able to cast the net wide and have these conversations regularly.

My team is actively pitching, so here’s hoping!

Report on the World Economic Forum on CNN.

What is your view on the role of media?

It’s no secret that we live in a world full of misinformation. We face growing threats from unregulated social media platforms, AI-generated disinformation, and people with big megaphones who believe they can make up their own version of the truth.

So it’s clear that the role of the media in our society has never been more prominent. In the most reductive sense: discussions had in the media are influential, and ultimately impact the decisions we make and the people we vote for.

I can only speak as a journalist, and right now, I think it is incumbent upon us as journalists to be responsible and to be reliable — because trusted news has never been more essential. I also see it as my role to stimulate debate, and never shy away from asking tough, and sometimes uncomfortable, questions of those in power to hold them accountable for their actions.

Increasingly I also think journalists have to become real time fact checkers, because part of the responsibility is to remain vigilant and proactive against threats like misinformation. 

Russia’s war on Ukraine, Isa Soares Tonight on CNN.

What is your vision of media 10 years from now?

I think the way people consume news will likely continue to change — as it has over the past few decades — but there’s always going to be room for us.

I know there’s a lot of discussion about whether linear television will become completely obsolete as more people shift to streaming and social media, and while I can’t predict or comment on that, what I do know is that when big things happen in the world people need somewhere to go for live updates and smart analysis.

It’s obviously important to reach audiences where they are, but I don’t think changes in the media industry necessarily need to be something to be afraid of. For example, I have colleagues at CNN who have very successfully adopted social media as a key part of their reporting. I think as new platforms pop up it can be an opportunity to experiment, and we can incorporate new ways to get that information out there, but it doesn’t take away from the core product.    

Could you share an interesting work-related anecdote? 

I often get asked how I started at CNN, and my response, though a cliché’, couldn’t be truer: I was in the right place at the right time. I was interning with the sports department — when I received a call from the head of HR in London telling me I had an interview for a production assistant position. For a recent university graduate, this was music to my ears. But I never applied for any position and I was sure they had the wrong person. When I stated this on the phone, the head of HR told me that my name had been recommended by several people and asked “do you want it?” To date,  I still don’t know who recommended me but I’m forever grateful and in return, I strive to inspire, mentor and create the same opportunities for others.   

* Julián Ginzo is a member of the Editorial Board of UN Today.
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