Katie Couric is one of the most successful people in media by many standards. When she joined the CBS Evening News in 2006, she became the first woman to solo anchor a nightly news broadcast and the highest-paid journalist in the world, despite a persistent gender pay gap. Since then, she’s pioneered in the digital space, figuring out newsletters, video streaming services, podcasting and social media before many major newsrooms.
Here are three lessons I learned from Katie as she reflected on her career at Poynter’s Bowtie Ball:
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1) It’s refreshing — and productive — when journalists are honest about their shortcomings.
Katie Couric founded Katie Couric Media (don’t you love when women name things after themselves?) in 2011 with husband John Molner to spotlight issues that pique her curiosity, often by partnering with purpose-driven organizations. Whether that’s reconsidering the white working class in a documentary with National Geographic, highlighting victims of mass shootings on her Instagram, examining the impact of violent porn in her podcast or revisiting consequential women throughout history in a series with People magazine, Katie and her company are hustling across mediums.
“It’s invigorating to be the boss of me,” said Katie.
What about being the boss of other people? KCM employs mostly millennial women, so I was curious about how she would describe her management style.
“Terrible!” Katie said to me, laughing. “I can’t say I’m the world’s best manager. I really need to be managed myself. So my husband’s doing this with me. And he’s really great at business and really helping people nurture their careers.”
What I loved about her answer is that she knows her strengths — she described providing opportunities for her employees to flex their creativity in a nonhierarchical environment — and is candid about her weaknesses. This allows Molner to focus on human resources and lets her be the face of the company.
2) It’s OK to say you’re proud of yourself.
Women who talk openly about their success can face sexist judgment or professional backlash, so it’s sometimes hard to know how to advocate for yourself. In the course of one conversation, Katie showed an authentic and artful way to talk about her accomplishments. She moved from her family being proud of her, to being proud of herself.
Katie’s father, John M. Couric, was a journalist for the Atlanta Constitution and United Press wire, worked in public relations for the National Association of Broadcasters, and taught journalism and public relations.
“He would be so proud of me getting this award,” said Katie when she accepted her Medal for Lifetime Achievement from Poynter. “I miss him. I lost my dad in 2011 and my mom in 2014 … I’m just thinking about them both a lot tonight.”
Katie also mentioned the moment — about a year after her infamous on-air colonoscopy — her young daughter, Ellie, said, “Mom, I’m so proud of the work you’ve done with colon cancer.”
After Katie’s exam on the “Today” show, colonoscopy rates across the United States jumped more than 20%, which likely led to many lives saved.
“If I could do anything to ensure that other fathers or mothers or grandparents or uncles, aunts, kids could be around for the people they love, I felt that that was my obligation as a journalist,” Katie told Poynter senior vice president, Kelly McBride. “I’m really, really proud that I was able to do that.”
3) You can cash in on that credibility currency.
Over the course of Katie’s 40-year career, she’s put in the work to demonstrate credibility and earn trust with her audience. She can handle a surprise presidential interview, like the 19-minute conversation she had with George H.W. Bush on live TV. She can pivot when a political candidate boggles a question, as she did with Sarah Palin. She can maintain calm during acts of terror, like when planes hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Throughout her reporting, anchoring, hosting and producing, she consistently displays her humor, personality and kindness.
Now as she runs her own media company, she’s able to leverage her audience relationship and, frankly, cash in on it.
“I think people are attracted to working with me because they believe that I’m a credible person … and feel that my authenticity and my editorial judgment is what they actually want,” Katie said in our interview.
With this kind of support, Katie is able to pursue stories that elevate her passion projects: gender equality, decreasing gun violence and cancer research, among others.
Isn’t that the dream?
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