One word and a rather startled expression was the response I got when I plopped down next to Katie Couric at the Denver Press Club’s 20th annual Damon Runyon Award Banquet, and requested a quick interview. Couric was the evening’s keynote speaker and winner of the Runyon award, celebrating her remarkable decades-long career in television news, as well as her empathy in covering sensitive stories like the Columbine High School shooting in Denver in 1999.
My request – for career advice for young, aspiring journalists – came out of the blue, but Couric’s response was thoughtful. It even put a new twist on the standard advice journalism students often hear: Be persistent. Don’t give up. Evaluate your skills. Her perspective, as a professional journalist and mother of two girls, added a layer of intention and purpose to the process of job-hunting. She suggests a more passion-driven strategy.
Here are Couric’s nuggets of advice:
- ”Be persistent: You may not get offered the job you want right away, but go back and ask again. Don’t give up.”
- “Take a critical look at your skills, and understand which part of the (journalism) business you really like. For example, if you’re really detail-oriented, you might make a good assignment editor. If you’re reticent about intruding and asking a lot of questions, you might want to re-think becoming a reporter. Find out what you love and what you’re good at, and pursue it.”
Even with that relative wealth of experience, Couric says it was hard to land her first on-air job. She worked as a desk assistant at WJLA, the ABC news affiliate in Washington.
“I basically got sandwiches for the anchor,” she said.
Then, she happened to be in the right place at the right time. CNN launched nine months into her sandwich runs, and she jumped ship.
“CNN was a non-union shop – a start-up,” Couric recalled.
She was able to jump onto the update desk as a fill-in anchor. The experience wasn’t exactly confidence-building.
“In my earpiece, I could hear the other anchors asking, ‘Who is that? She looks about 12 years old!’” she said.
But she persisted – working on her on-air delivery and presentation skills, staying at CNN for four years and working in every imaginable role:
“Assignment editor, producer, you name it,” she said.
Couric’s first “real on-air job” was at then-WRC Channel 4 in Washington. There, she met Tim Russert. Couric had found a mentor.
“It only takes one person to believe in you, and my person was Tim Russert,” she said.
Everyone is familiar with Couric’s career trajectory. The TODAY show, CBS Evening News, Katie. Through it all, she maintained her journalistic principles.
“Asking questions is not enough,” she said. “A journalist’s job is to get answers.”
At her new post as global anchor at Yahoo!, Couric says she’s going to bring old-fashioned journalistic practices– fairness, accuracy, experience – to this new platform. But she’s also going to keep her favorite new acronym in mind:
“TMI and NEU – Too much information and not enough understanding,” she said.
Couric will provide coverage with compassion.
CU JMC student Annie Melton, winner of Tim Russert
Scholarship, with Katie Couric at the Damon Runyon
Award Banquet, March 14, 2014
So, aspiring journalists, keep Couric’s advice in mind when plotting your own career
path. What’s your passion? How can you align your career goals with your life goals? How can you stay true to yourself while pursuing success? Keep Couric’s advice in mind, when considering job offers. “There are a lot of opportunities in journalism today,” she said. “Find one that matches your skills and your passion.” I had to wonder if Couric had heard that same advice from her mentor, Tim Russert, way back when. And I hope journalism students are listening, when they hear it from her today.