He always liked to write. He liked the idea of having his writings printed with his name.
He did a report on a book he read for class and it got in the school paper. That was his first byline.
In middle school, he wrote a piece on Native Americans. His teacher told him that he could make a living out of writing and become a journalist.
He says he got interested in journalism by doing it. He got involved with as many publications as he could.
At his Catholic high school, the paper's advisor taught him everything he knew.
His senior year, he became the editor-in-chief of the paper.
He attended Holy Cross College and worked for the school's paper as a layout editor.
He's a great believer in people learn journalism by doing it.
His first professional job was at The Wall Street Journal, but before that he was a newspaper delivery boy.
He talks about a time a skunk got him on his delivery route.
He ran into a colleague from his high school years at a Christmas Party in 1956. He told him that WSJ was hiring, so he applied.
He had an interview with WSJ and was offered a job. The next day he had an interview with Time Magazine but they thought he was ignorant for wanting to start in the big leagues right after college.
The Korean War draft was still in place, but there was an option for the Army Reserves.
After he graduated from college, he went to work at the WSJ New York office. He worked there for 41 years.
He says at the WSJ young reporters would be paired up with experienced reporters. He was paired with the bond reporter.
He says his partner was a stickler for making sure there wasn't any number mistakes in the paper. O'Donnell's job was to double check numbers in stories.
After nine months, he got his first byline. It was a story on bond initiatives.
After a year at the WSJ, he was moved to a series of beats. He did that for 6-7 years. He covered things like the textile business and cigarette makers.
He said a challenge was writing about real estate and construction. Bookkeeping was hard to understand.
The area was not covered much by other publications so he was getting exclusives.
He gained attention by senior editors. A position opened in the Detroit bureau. He became the bureau chief in Detroit for the WSJ.
He was scheduled to move to Detroit when his wife was pregnant with their fourth child. He says his wife is a tough lady.
He says there was racial disturbances in Detroit when he moved. The following summer, the Detroit Riot occurred where 43 people died.
After eight years in Detroit, he moved back to New York to work as an assistant managing editor of WSJ.
He worked as an assistant for three years, and after was named managing editor. He was managing editor for six years, and then was asked to help diversify the news staff.
He worked on diversity for the company for 6-7 years. He retired after but was asked to stay as a paid consultant.
He says covering the Detroit Riot was difficult because WSJ didn't have minorities on staff.
When he was in the Army Reserves, part of the training was in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He grew up in white neighborhoods so he didn't have experience with minorities.
He says there wasn't troubles, but tension in the air.
He got to know a white family who took in soldiers for the weekends. He says they exposed him to southern hospitality, but also their thoughts on racial tensions in the South.
He talks about the incident in Little Rock where integration was implemented at Little Rock Central High School. He says it was a big news story.
He remembers reading stories in the WSJ about racial tensions in the South. He says the stories were good, but tended to be analytical. They didn't have anecdotes.
He says the obvious point was that the articles were written by white reporters. A black reporter would have more diverse voices in the story.
When the Detroit Riot happened he says it was no longer an academic issue.
WSJ hired two black reporters. He talks about his experience with them.
When he was asked to work on diversity for WSJ, he wasn't given any instruction. He says the first thing he knew was that WSJ couldn't wait for applications, they had to get out of the office to find candidates.
He also suggested having a minority reporter work with him for a year, and then be replaced by another. He says there was a lot of interest at job fairs.
He talks about the minority reporters he worked with.
A challenge in recruiting minority reporters was convincing them that WSJ was dedicated to diversity. And that they were being hired because of their skills and not the color of their skin.
He talks about the hiring policy at the WSJ. He expands on the diversity issue at the paper.
He remembers when he was managing editor that he was questioned about hiring minorities.
He was a member of American Society of News Editors (ASNE). They had a diversity committee. By the year 2000, they said that minorities in the newsroom should be equal to the groups in society.
He says there was progress made, but at the rate they were going they weren't going to get to their goal. There was debate about lowering the bar.
O'Donnell says he wanted to keep the bar high and to figure out how to make progress. He says not every news organization was as committed as others were.
He talks about the creation of the Dow Jones News Fund. In 1970, the organization took a change in focus. They wanted to attract minority high school and college students.
Eventually, he became the president of Dow Jones News Fund. He talks about the importance of training people.
He talks about the high school program. He grew up in a household where newspapers were read. Some kids in the high school program didn't have that same experience.
He goes back to the idea that a person gains interest in journalism by doing it. He talks about the program's workshops.
He's an advocator for print journalism.
He says he hopes he was able to inspire kids through the workshops.
He says there are more opportunities today compared to back then;WSJ took a chance on him.
He talks about the formation of NAHJ. "A real opening was happening for Hispanic journalists."
A Hispanic colleague was part of a program that supported college students getting summer internships. He ended up at the Los Angeles Times and on the board for Dow Jones News Fund.
He became involved with the Latino Reporter. Students produced a daily paper on the 1988 NAHJ convention. The problem was printing it.
He was at a board meeting with NAHJ and they were talking about printing the paper. He volunteered to help. He was able to print the paper at WSJ's Dallas plant.
He says there was inconvenience involved because employees at the printing plant worked longer hours. But, they took great pride in helping.
The Hispanic students brought the plant workers cloth dolls. He says that incident said major things about what could happen.
After the paper came out, he wanted to continue helping NAHJ. He contacted the Dallas Morning News editor and asked if Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez could speak at a convention. He said yes.
He says there was a feeling of trying new things in that period of time. He was very happy to be involved with NAHJ, it's one of his highlights.
He thinks getting younger people in contact with seasoned reporters is great. "That's the mix you need."
He talks about the future of diversity. ASNE does an annual survey about diversity. He says up until 2008, the numbers were inching up.
After 2008, the numbers have leveled off at a lower level. It's disturbing to him.
He says the diversity process has to get revved up again if newsrooms want to be equal to society. There needs to be new leadership and commitment.
He thinks it can happen, but also pressures that can be against it. He says we shouldn't give up hope.