Interview with Katie Couric
December 6, 2010
As I say at the beginning of this interview, I don’t even know where to begin, so let’s just go ahead and jump right
in. In a special three-part series, I’m joined by none other than Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of the
CBS EVENING NEWS WITH KATIE COURIC,
correspondent for 60 MINUTES and anchor of CBS News primetime specials.
When the CBS EVENING NEWS WITH KATIE
COURIC debuted on September 5, 2006, Couric became the first female solo anchor of a weekday network
evening news broadcast. 2008 was a pivotal year for Katie Couric, expanding her presence from traditional media to
social media. During the Presidential campaign, Couric launched a series of important webcasts and a YouTube
channel that gave viewers live, exclusive Web coverage of the election and the historic beginnings of Obama’s
presidency. In 2009, @KatieCouric debuted as a weekly webcast, which features candid one-on-one interviews with
top newsmakers. @KatieCouric also expanded its presence to Twitter, where Katie has not only joined the
conversation, she’s actively investing in its future.
Please watch the first of three candid and fascinating conversations, which I hope you’ll find enlightening, refreshing,
and also inspirational.
Brian: Hello everybody. I am Brian Solis and welcome to (R)evolution. I don’t even
know where to start with this, but let’s just go and give it a shot. I am with
none other than Katie Couric. Katie, my goodness, thank you very much.
Katie: Are you kidding? You came all the way from San Francisco. I am really
happy to do this.
Brian: Well, it is the least that I could do. I also want to take a minute to thank
Erica Anderson for putting this together. So, let’s just jump in, because I
know that time is limited and I have a lot of questions.
Katie: O.k., excellent. You have your trusty clipboard there.
Brian: It is actually an iPad.
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Katie: Oh – [laughter].
Brian: The 2008 election. I think it was a pivotal year for you and new media and
you are webcasting live, covering everything that is going on. You are
breaking into new media. You start YouTube in 2008; 2009 becomes
@KatieCouric, or the year @KatieCouric; you jump on Twitter. What
compelled you to dive into the brave new world of social media?
Katie: Well, I think probably the expression, necessity is the mother of invention.
It was actually for selfish reasons. I have to be really honest with you. CBS
doesn’t have a cable property and I had come from NBC, and done a lot of
work with MSNBC, and because of that I thought, gee, we’ve got a lot of real
estate with CBSNews.com. I was frustrated at times having to get off the air
quickly, because that is what pays the bills, the commercials and the
entertainment programming. And, during one of the most exciting if not the
most exciting elections in my lifetime, I wanted to do more. So, that is why
during the conventions we said, let’s do a webcast, because I can’t go over
to MCBS and I might as well try to utilize what was available to me. So we
started doing webcasts after the conventions, we started doing webcasts
after debates. I like to have conversations with people and I just didn’t
really have an outlet for the kind of spontaneous natural programming that
I had become accustomed to working on the Today Show for fifteen years.
So, really, partially, it was for selfish reasons. I wanted to do more and I had
this available to me. Obviously, I wasn’t born yesterday and you don’t have
to be Carnac to realize that traditional media in and of itself isn’t enough.
We can’t expect people, given their lifestyles, given the way they consume
news and information to be gathered around the television set like people
were when I was little, watching Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley.
Or even Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. We had to reach
out to people and become much more available to them. So, I saw this
revolution happening before my eyes. I saw the media landscape shifting
before my eyes and I thought, gee, the people who put their head in the
sand are just trying to tread water and hang onto all the traditional ways of
imparting information are going to be left in the dust. And I didn’t want to
be one of those people.
Brian: It sounds like – you say selfish, but at the same time it is also very generous,
because now you make yourself and your perspective a little bit more
available to people in new mediums.
Katie: Well, I am glad you think I am generous, Brian. Thank you very much. That
is a very nice way of putting it. You are right; I am very generous. But, you
know, listen, if I can be helpful, if I can give people something they need, or
desire. If there is a perspective that is available to them that they can’t get
to at 6:30 at night. You know, most of my friends, to be honest with you,
have a really hard time watching me in real time on the CBS Evening News.
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Many of them, the particularly loyal friends DVR me and watch it
religiously. But I think it is just remarkable. I have been in television news
for thirty-one years now, because I am fifty three and I started right out of
college and it has just been absolutely remarkable and breathtaking to see
how much has changed because of technology in my business. And, I think
that I am sort of that sandwich generation, if you will, between new media
and traditional media. I haven’t been in it as long as some people who are
quite senior in senior positions in broadcast journalism. But I wasn’t raised
with social media being a huge part of my daily diet. I see my daughters
now, who are nineteen and fourteen and quite frankly I see even a change
between my nineteen year old and my fourteen year old in terms of how
they consume news, information, entertainment, etc. But, because I think I
was in kind of that middle area, and I think I am always interested in trends
and I have a personality that I think lends itself to the Internet. Because I
have always kind of been a natural person, not kind of “Good Evening.”
Even though I do that now. “Good Evening, Everyone.” I get to say,
“Everyone” though. That is a little spontaneous. So I felt like this was a
great area for me to explore, and that is what I have been trying to do.
Brian: You are doing it quite well.
Katie: Well, thank you for saying that. I am trying. Someone like you and a lot of
other thought leaders in this arena are very educated and well-versed and
really understand and quite honestly, the learning curve for me was pretty
steep. So, I am finding my voice, my digital voice. And, still experimenting
with things, and so it has been fun and really interesting.
Brian: You know, you actually bring up some great points in the fact that a lot of
this is new for everyone, including myself. I say that I can’t master anything
that is changing so quickly. I can only be a student. And that is o.k., and I
think it is the experimentation that teaches us everything. What did you
learn along the way? Like for you, aside from reasons to experiment with
new media, what social hooks were you finding with the audience? New
ways to engage? Develop new relationships?
Katie: It has been interesting, because I think I felt like I had a very close
connection with my Today Show viewers, because they kind of saw me –
first of all, I was there for so long, they saw me have two kids, they saw me
deal with my husband’s illness and death, my sister, sadly, also passed
away, and they kind of had a lot of personal insight, because people used to
say to me, “I feel like I know you,” and I would say, “Actually, you do.” They
haven’t seen probably the really dark side of me, but I mean they don’t see
every aspect of my personality, but they see many of them. I do serious
interviews, funny interviews, engaged in fun things, but also very
confrontational interviews at times, so I think they got a very good
understanding of my personality. And I miss that, actually. I miss that kind
(R)evolution: Katie Couric – Social Media and Real Time Journalism 4
of connection, that engagement that I had with viewers at NBC. And in a
way I feel like I am revitalizing that through social media. I let people know
kind of what I am doing personally. One of the most challenging things for
me, Brian, is how much of myself do I reveal? How many personal things do
I share? I want to make sure that people know that I am seriously engaged
in my profession of news and looking for good articles and good
information and sometimes, I don’t know about you, I feel overwhelmed by
the tsunami of information that is currently at our fingertips. And I try to
kind of make sense of that for other people, too. I get story ideas from
Twitter sometimes. People will say, hey, it is National Childhood Cancer
Month, and some people are very persistent and I get Tweet after ReTweet,
but I really appreciate that, because they are passionate about their cause.
Of a guy who is walking around the country supporting kids who may age
out of Foster Care. I get feedback from people who are interested in a
particular story, who may be commenting on a story, so I use it as a
resource, too. And we have tried to codify that somewhat on the CBS
During the Gulf Oil Spill, which obviously took up the entire summer, it was
a very, I think, big learning experience for viewers and for us, the people
who were covering it in terms of offshore oil drilling and all the different
roles of BP, and Halliburton and who does what on an oil rig. That is a
whole new world, and I think we realized it started to feel repetitious and a
little Ground Hog Day-like, and so we thought, why don’t we solicit
questions from Twitter and Facebook, because I find that sometimes you
get so close to a story you kind of lose sight of the big picture and some of
the most obvious questions you are not necessarily answering. So we tried
to incorporate that into our broadcast which I thought was a really great
acknowledgement that this world has expanded. And we have tried to do
that for other stories as well. And I was really impressed, as I often am, I
find the best part of the paper is the Letters to the Editor. Whenever I feel
discouraged about the country, I look at the Letters to the Editors in
various national newspapers, and I think there are a lot of really smart,
really engaged and caring people out there, who have a particular point of
view that they can defend and support. So, I think I have used it to feel
closer to my viewers. Like when Tony and I do Facebook chats, or I am
interviewing somebody for @KatieCouric and they want to know some
questions or they want to know about something so they submit questions.
So it has really been a great useful tool for me.
Brian: And it is also not just using it as a way to modify content or just humanize
you, at the same time you are giving a voice to people who didn’t
necessarily have that voice without something like a Letter to the Editor.
Now they have Twitter; now they blogs; now they have comments; now
they have Facebook, and so their voices are heard as well.
(R)evolution: Katie Couric – Social Media and Real Time Journalism 5
Katie: I have always tried, in my job, to ask questions that I think most people
really want to know the answer to. There are a lot of journalists who kind
of show off in their questions. And their questions really are more a way to
convey how much they know about any given subject. I have always tried
to fashion questions where I give information so the question doesn’t come
out of nowhere. I give some background or some context. But I really try to
ask questions that I believe people would ask if they had the opportunity.
So now I don’t have to imagine that. Now I can actually see it in black and
white before my eyes and I feel like that is a public service. That I can be
responsive to them, and ergo, have our public officials or movie stars if they
are curious about them, or authors, or whatever, then I am just a conduit,
Brian: Earlier I was talking with Dan Farber, and Dan and I were talking about the
idea of information going to where our attention is focused. And at the
same time you are engaging, you are connecting people to content, you are
enlivening the content with real world perspective and insight. At the same
time, though you are creating a new path for this information, for this
content. It is taking new courses that might not have otherwise been
consumed. If it is not on television, but it is on Twitter, you are reaching
somebody, not only where their attention is focused, but they are also
connected to other people who are connected. This idea of audiences with
audiences, so now you have information that can travel in ways that it
could never travel before.