5 takeaways from Fireside Chat With Katie Couric

Gracie McKenzie (@graciemckenzie), Chair of the volunteer ONA Resource Team, compiled these key moments from the ONA20 session on Oct. 2, 2020. To view a recording of the session, register for on-demand access to the ONA20 archive. Session participants included:

Speaker: Katie Couric, Journalist, Author, and Cofounder, Katie Couric Media

Moderator: Emily Ramshaw, Co-founder and CEO, The 19th*

5 key takeaways:

  1. There are historic parallels to the White House trying to keep President Trump getting the coronavirus under wraps: President Wilson had a stroke while in office that was kept from the American people, and President Kennedy’s steroid shots as treatment for Addison’s disease were “less serious but noteworthy.” Still, “this kind of secret keeping has become more difficult in the current age,” Couric says—and with this administration’s track record on the truth, it’s going to be important for reporters to keep a close eye on things.
  2. The trend in media that most concerns Couric is “the bifurcation of media outlets,” which has led to people getting “affirmation not information” from their news consumption. Networks “want people to be riled up because they want them to watch. Unfortunately, it’s ratings,” she explains, and she wonders if the people who are making coverage decisions are “doing what’s best for the people of the United States of America, or if they’re doing what’s best for the bottom line of their corporations.”
  3. Couric learned from being in the room during decades of coverage of Hillary Clinton the importance of hiring a diverse team and listening to their feedback on bias and tone. “Sometimes these clueless guys would write things and I would say ‘Hey, would you describe a male candidate that way? It’s not really appropriate.’” Now, “I do see it’s changing and we certainly see more women getting involved in politics, more women working in media, but not, in my opinion, at these top level positions where they’re making the decisions. They’re usually there to prop up the white guys who are in charge. Let’s face it.”
  4. Why she left network TV and started her own company: “I wanted to control my own fate. I also felt like I’d done everything, I’d worked at every network except for Fox, and I wanted to see … did I really need that huge infrastructure? … I wanted to cover issues that I thought were important that were getting short shrift on more traditional networks.”
  5. An audience member asked: “What is your advice for working moms trying to advance in this industry, and also sort of keep the wheels on?” Couric’s answer: “I would say, ladies and gentlemen, pick a partner who is going to carry his or her fair share of the workload at home. You don’t need me or Melinda Gates to tell you how often women are saddled with doing all of that, and that dog just won’t hunt anymore, as Dan Rather would say. You just can’t do it. If you want a two career couple you have to have people who are able to be full participants,” and also, “always tell yourself you’re doing the best you can. For every recital you may miss, remember that your kids are watching you put great stuff into the world.”

Memorable/tweetable quotes:

  • “You feel like you are watching some kind of strange movie. It feels like House of Cards on steroids … This is probably the mother of all news stories when you think about the last four years. You wonder if part of the administration’s efforts, and of course this would not be one of them, is to distract, to keep throwing out so much news that it’s hard for anyone actually to process it and consider the impact of any given story.” —Katie Couric on the news that Trump had tested positive for COVID the previous evening
  • “It’s going to be a very interesting month prior to the election. And by the way, a very interesting month or two, or three, or four after November 3.” —Katie Couric
  • “In many ways newsletters are replacing newspapers … I hope that they’re not too personalized because part of the joy of consuming news and information is getting material that you wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. Different points of view.” —Katie Couric