Before social media provided a space to see intimate glimpses into any public figure’s life, there was Katie Couric. An icon in broadcast journalism, Couric was famously the host of The Today Show for 15 years, where she not only established herself as a news authority with a sunny disposition that few humans could ever muster before their morning coffee, she reported from a place of complete openness that has quite literally changed lives.
As Couric explained to us, she sees vulnerability as a source of power. When she reported on colon cancer in 2000, following the death of her first husband to the disease, she demonstrated the importance of preventative screenings by undergoing a colonoscopy on live television. Her work earned her a George Foster Peabody Award and resulted in a 20% increase nationwide in colonoscopies, a phenomenon coined the “Couric Effect.” Then in 2022, Couric shared her own breast cancer diagnosis with the world and once again turned a moment of personal pain into an opportunity to share information about the disease with the public.
While Couric’s work has led her to become an advocate for cancer research and screening—including as a co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer—her power to report and be open with her audience has continued through Katie Couric Media. Founded by Couric and her husband John Molner in 2017, KCM has created a community that relies on robust, vetted reporting on some of the biggest global news stories, as well as the latest developments and popular trending conversations in health, culture, and lifestyle. Today she’s expanded the company into diverse platforms to meet viewers (readers, listeners) where they are, including her newsletter Wake-Up Call, podcast Next Question, and, of course, social media where Couric can foster direct conversations. Her 2021 New York Times bestseller’s title, aptly named Going There, is, too, a nod to her willingness to share information, even personal, that has an opportunity to connect with, enrich, or even extend someone’s life.
Ahead, we spoke about the incredible past, present, and future career of our—but kind of everyone’s—Work Friend, Katie Couric.
"My advocacy work is turning vulnerability into power and action."
ON HER EARLY CAREER NORTH STAR
Because I was always a good writer and could write quickly and under deadline–I was such a procrastinator—my father guided me towards a career in journalism. He was a print reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the United Press and was an extremely talented writer himself. It seemed natural for me to gravitate toward a career that would use words and writing. I was also, and still am, extremely outgoing and I don't think I have a shy bone in my body. So, being interested in people and extroverted and curious, combined with my love of writing, made journalism a great career choice for me. My goal was really to be a network correspondent and to be respected by my peers. That was my North Star in my 20s. I also wanted to be a network correspondent by the time I was 30, and I think I got there, even though I missed it by two years.
ON NAVIGATING NO
Early in my career, I had a lot of people saying no. I had the president of CNN saying he never wanted to see me on the air again. I had people who just didn't see me as somebody who had the potential to be a serious journalist. The things that ultimately helped me initially hurt me: my friendly disposition, my kind of diminutive stature, and the fact that I am open and outgoing. That didn't necessarily jibe with someone who is a serious person. But I didn't let that stop me. I just kept working hard and developing the skills I needed to become successful and realized I just needed more experience and more time to hone my skills. And while it was upsetting, I didn't really take the criticism personally. I tried to take it in a constructive way and, instead of becoming defeated, figured out how I would prevent those things from standing in my way.
ON TURNING VULNERABILITY INTO POWER AND ACTION
I think that the most effective journalism involves personal stories and storytelling that creates a visceral reaction or emotional connection. So it was only natural that when I had situations that I thought would be helpful to share with other people, I didn't hesitate. Hopefully, most people with the kind of platform I had, and continue to have, would make the same decisions because it’s both a privilege and a responsibility to help people take care of themselves and live longer, happier lives.
Journalism is about sharing information that is helpful. It could be helpful in terms of making the decision about who you're going to vote for, or when understanding the challenges of global warming. And for me, the idea of having information that people could act on and has the potential to even save lives, it just was a complete no-brainer. I didn't really see it as being vulnerable. I saw it as being open and honest and sharing an experience that people could apply to their lives. It was almost the opposite of vulnerability. I guess I was vulnerable when I went on national television and explained what it was like to lose my husband to colon cancer, but my advocacy work is turning vulnerability into power and action.
ON LAUNCHING KATIE COURIC MEDIA
It made me feel uncomfortable to name the company after me, but I was convinced that it would be a good thing. I wanted to leverage the fact that people knew my name and that I had developed a relationship with viewers and news consumers that cultivated trust. Also, I got into journalism at a time when some individuals had become important brands, and I wanted to take advantage of that.
It was exciting because I've always been very forward-thinking about the media landscape. I knew that things were changing dramatically when I got into television news in 1979 after I graduated from college, and I wanted to be on the front end of some of those changes. And then I decided to create something of my own. We're not a network, but we've built a great community. I'm able to mentor young journalists and I love the fact that I'm a job creator—I'm adding jobs to the economy and I'm giving people an opportunity to find what they're passionate about. That feels really good. My husband has a huge role, as well. He's the CEO and he is the business brains behind the operation.
It's been really exciting to build something from scratch. It's the same thing that we did with Stand Up to Cancer—it was nine women who were frustrated by the pace of cancer research and the progress, or lack thereof, that had been made. We wanted institutions and medical establishments to work together to collaborate instead of compete. That was in 2008, and now, 15 years later, we have raised over $700 million for cancer research and our work has contributed to nine new FDA-approved drugs for cancer. I've learned firsthand that you can create something out of nothing and that that's a really exciting and fulfilling thing to do.
ON THE WORK THAT SPARKS JOY TODAY
I love big important cultural issues and to look at the big picture of ramifications of world events. For example, the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action and what that means for legacy applicants now at colleges across the country, and the debate over whether or not that is its own form of affirmative action or maintaining the status quo. I'm interested in ideas and what they mean for our society and the future. But I also really like to stay on top of what's going on in the world. That's a very important part of our newsletter. There are health and medical stories that I really am passionate about, and I'm very interested in technology and how AI is going to change the world.
I also think people want to know how to feel better because we live in very turbulent and divisive times. There's a lot of anger pulsing around the body politic, so I love our newsletter to be a way people can learn how to improve relationships, how to improve their health—both mental and physical—and how they can also give back. All the studies about happiness show that you have more happiness if you have more purpose, and more purpose often is outward-facing—it means helping other people instead of thinking of yourself 24/7.
ON PERSONAL STYLE
Some people have a very distinctive sense of style and I'm more chameleon-like. Sometimes I like to wear pretty, flowery, ruffled dresses, and then other times I like to wear power suits with shoulder pads and sharp lapels. But in general, I gravitate to clean lines, tailored things, and classic styles that don't look super trendy. I think that's really helpful if you're trying to make a good impression, especially in journalism that the clothes aren't wearing you, but you're wearing the clothes. You look professional and put together, but not to the point where it looks like you were thinking about it for hours before you got dressed in the morning.
ON THE MOST MEANINGFUL MEASURE OF SUCCESS
I'm reminded every day that my work has had an impact. It's rare for a week to go by when someone doesn't come up to me and say, “Thank you for educating me about screening. I got screened for colon cancer and you actually saved my life.” Or “I got my mammogram and I was in the same situation as you were. So, thank you so much for reminding me to do that.” I think those exchanges are so heartening and gratifying and they're something that I don't share with people. But the fact that I've touched their lives—and maybe extended their lives or allowed them to take care of themselves—is hard to describe how meaningful that is.
ON CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO
It's a very challenging time right now for media. Social media and online content allow you to create your own specific media ecosystem, which often becomes an echo chamber following people with whom you agree and not being challenged in your beliefs or understanding different sides of the story. And it's incredibly time-consuming to have a deep understanding of a lot of these issues. And it's easy to get affirmation instead of information and to parrot other people's points of view without really thinking about it or doing your own research. Disinformation is rampant and you have to consider the source more than ever before.
So, I tried to disrupt the status quo by creating a platform and content that is well-vetted, edited, researched, and accessible to the average person. I also was the co-chair of the Aspen Institute Commission on Information Disorder and I just continue to fight the good fight. I really do believe there are more good people than bad people out there—the bad people have the loudest voices. And I want to continue to serve people who truly want to understand important issues. They are generally good citizens and compassionate people and, when push comes to shove, would do the right thing. So I'm just continuing to do the kind of journalism I was raised on, which is being fair-minded, honest, and doing everything we can to bring people factual information.
"I'm reminded every day that my work has had an impact."