“I’ve never been a complacent person,” says Katie Couric, reflecting on a long and varied career that has most recently landed her at Yahoo as its first global news anchor. “I hope people see me as a risk taker and someone who’s not afraid of challenges.”
Few would accuse Couric, 58, of simply going through the motions. Since joining the tech behemoth in 2014, she’s taken on the daunting mission of reinventing its digital newsroom, bringing the credibility and quality of broadcast journalism to the web—and is enjoying every minute of it.
“I used to have to be in my seat ready to go when the clock struck a certain number,” she says of her network-anchor days. “With Yahoo, I have a lot more flexibility. No two days are alike, I can travel, and I have this smorgasbord of interesting projects I’m working on, which is really stimulating and exciting.”
Post-analog Couric is running 30 minutes late to an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting in downtown Manhattan, and en route, it becomes clear just how much the new role demands of her time. “I think I need to be cloned,” she jokes. But then, Couric hasn’t really slowed down since the day she took over as co-anchor of the Today show in 1991, already radiating the trademark warmth and confidence that would endear her to millions. “I guess this means you’re stuck with me,” she quipped to co-host Bryant Gumbel. “Or maybe I’m stuck with you.” She held the position for 15 years, during which the NBC flagship won the weekly network ratings war for an unprecedented decade straight. Then, in 2006, she made history when she jumped to rival CBS to become the first solo female anchor of an evening newscast.
“I think that helped normalize the presence of a woman doing a job like that,” she says. “Although I think it’s still way too male dominated.” With a $15 million annual salary at the Tiffany Network, Couric also became one of the highest paid journalists in the world. When she decamped to ABC five years later to host her own daytime talk show, Katie, she made headlines again with a record $40 million three-year contract.
At around the same time, Couric says she began to see significant changes on the media horizon and felt there was an opportunity to do more. So when freshly minted Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer called, she welcomed the chance to join the flagging Internet onomatopoeia as the face of its growing news operation.
As Couric tells it, she saw a serious need for network-quality video journalism that wasn’t being served online. In an endless sea of “cats playing the piano and dogs surfing,” she says, “there was a great opportunity and a market to do more thoughtful journalism.” Looking at the limitless digital landscape, she thought, “There’s a future here. How can I be a part of it, and how can I hopefully improve some of the things available on that platform?”
In just under two years, she has made Yahoo’s video-news division into a valuable and prolific source for not only breaking stories but also insightful profiles and in-depth interviews. (Couric’s even interviewed two other Gamechangers cover stars, Josh Ostrovsky, better known as The Fat Jew, and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.) “Yahoo is primarily a tech company, not a media company,” she says. “So there were a lot of building blocks that we had to assemble. And we’re adding more blocks every day.” To date, her videos have attracted some 250 million streams, with her spotlights on transgender teen Jazz Jennings, aforementioned Instagram phenomenon the Fat Jew and plus-size model Ashley Graham topping three million views apiece.
Among the many ways Couric has been experimenting with the new platform is through World 3.0, one of Yahoo’s most popular and widely discussed digital series. In interviews with leading innovators from the worlds of tech, science, business and philanthropy, she’s attempted to shed light on the future by asking questions on the theme “What if?” Recent subjects have included inventor Dean Kamen, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Lyft’s John Zimmer. “I think that hopefully people see me and say, ‘Look, she’s trying this,’ ” Couric says of the work. “Or, ‘Wow, she’s going there.’ ”
Engaging with and relating to a whole new generation of digital viewers has been a critical component of Couric’s success. She maintains an active presence on Twitter, with some 1.37 million followers, and on Instagram, where she peppers her feed with celebrity selfies and personal candids of herself walking the dog or getting a haircut. “It’s a way to be completely unvarnished,” she says. “I’m able to be my authentic self and let people know the things I care about.”
In what free time she has, Couric devotes herself to projects she cares deeply about. That includes Fed Up, a 2014 documentary on childhood obesity she co-produced and narrated, which she’s attempting to distribute to elementary classrooms nationwide, and a new documentary that takes aim at U.S. gun-control laws and the NRA. But her biggest priority is Stand Up to Cancer, a charity she helped found which has raised almost $300 million for oncological research. Couric says it was her late husband Jay Monahan’s losing battle with colon cancer in 1998 that imbued her with a sense of purpose. “That tragic event has given me such a focus and really guided me in my philanthropic work,” she says. And when Couric pitches in on a cause, she usually gets results. Following her on-air colonoscopy, there was a documented 20 percent increase in the number of colonoscopies performed across the country. Researchers dubbed it The Katie Couric Effect.
Asked what motivates her to take so many risks, Couric thinks for a moment. “The joy is in the process of doing it, whatever happens,” she says. “That’s how you continue to grow as a person—to put yourself in challenging situations and new environments. Otherwise, you just atrophy.”
In main photo: Doria dress, $895, Sportmax, 212-674-1817.
Hair by Dana Fiore for Louis Licari. Make up by Josie Torres.