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Katie Couric, at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sept. 13, 2011. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
Katie Couric, at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sept. 13, 2011. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Inspiration

Couric shares her secret for success – ‘be fearless’ Add to ...

If you’re looking for inspiring insights and good advice on We Day, you’ll likely get a lot from Katie Couric.

The award-winning U.S. journalist, TV and online anchor, cancer awareness advocate and film producer is also author of the best-selling The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives. More than nearly any other journalist, Couric can really say that she has done it all, and is still very much at the top of her game.

After working as a national news anchor and morning TV host, she joined Yahoo Inc. as global anchor last year, where she reports on, well, just about everything. Her secret? “Be fearless,” she said at a commencement speech at Williams College (in Massachusetts) in 2007. “Have the courage to take risks. Go where there are no guarantees. Get out of your comfort zone even if it means being uncomfortable.”

In many ways, Couric’s news career is a living road map of the state of the media, from the days when it was dominated by powerhouse networks to the uncertainty and promise of the social media age.

She’s also a tireless promoter of causes – broadcasting her own colonoscopy and mammography on national TV to encourage others to get tested (her first husband Jay Monahan died at 42 of cancer). This year a documentary called Fed Up that she co-produced explored the causes of rampant obesity in the United States.

Anyone who went into journalism in her generation might have been happy with any of the jobs she has held and excelled at.

She worked for NBC News from 1989 until 2006, hosting Today and reporting for Dateline NBC. Then she went to CBS, becoming the first solo female anchor of a major suppertime news broadcast and reporting for 60 Minutes.

In 2008, Couric’s incisive interview with then Republican U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin helped to set the agenda for the November presidential election. Steve Schmidt, senior strategist for Ms. Palin’s running mate John McCain, begrudgingly called it “the most consequential interview from a negative perspective that a candidate for national office has gone through.”

Couric went on to ABC News in 2011, and since January she has been global anchor for Yahoo News, which has a partnership with ABC.

“It’s interesting that Yahoo is trying to extend its reach through legacy journalism,” says Janice Neil, professor of journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto and a veteran broadcaster herself, with CBC and TVOntario.

“She’s got a brand – it’s what we used to call name recognition – that extends across a few generations.”

Morning TV and the evening news, the traditional media where Couric’s career took root, still draw high audiences, but they tend to be comprised of older folks, particularly for the evening newscasts.

Media analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research says the median age of the U.S. TV audience in 2013-14 rose 6 per cent, or 2.5 years, to 44.4 years, from four years earlier.

Viewers of broadcast TV are getting older. The age of the typical U.S. TV viewer has advanced 5 per cent faster than that of the average American. A separate study has found that the average American watched 19 minutes of digital video last quarter, up from 11 minutes a year earlier.

Online platforms are where advertisers want to be. The median U.S. household income for Tumblr users is higher than $80,000 (U.S.).

Couric maintains an active Tumblr feed, updating news, offering insight and sharing stories with her online audience.

How does she do it all? By following her own have-no-fear rule.

“The road less travelled is sometimes fraught with barricades, bumps and uncharted terrain. But it is on that road where your character is truly tested. … Have the courage to accept that you’re not perfect – nothing is and no one is – and that’s okay.”

Her mixture of gravitas and openness seems to be right for the times, Neil says.

“I think she’s got a nice combination of authority and journalistic chops, but also warmth and personality that newer media is craving,” she says.

By sharing her medical tests, for example, “she opened herself up in a way that news anchors don’t normally.” The public mourned with Couric when her first husband died and certainly wished her the best in her new marriage, last June, to financier John Molner.

“She has invited the public to gaze at her personal life for good causes,” the professor says. “It’s a better strategy than saying absolutely nothing.”

Her success is a reflection of the way news delivery has been changing, the professor adds. Media outlets – including online media – want younger and younger anchors, “but they still have to show they’re in command and experienced,” Neil says.

“Maybe the news anchor’s job is not to be the voice of God as it once was, but they still need to deliver the news with authority.”

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