Katie Couric Has Never Seen a News Cycle Like This One (Q&A)

Katie Couric - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Katie Couric - Getty - H 2016

Couric and Ozy founder Carlos Watson spoke with THR in advance of Ozy Fest 2017.

Katie Couric, who is co-hosting the second edition of the music and politics festival Ozy Fest next weekend, said she was just "noodling" on her phone when she stumbled upon Ozy, the digital magazine behind the event. "I thought it was smart, interesting and fun to read," she said. "And, as a result, I wanted to know: What is this thing?" Couric reached out to Carlos Watson, the man behind the site, and struck up both a friendship and a professional relationship.

Before launching Ozy in 2013 and becoming a digital media entrepreneur, Watson was a familiar presence on cable TV, serving as an anchor on MSNBC and a political commentator on CNN. The well-connected Watson has a growing relationship with PBS and has been much quicker to bring projects to TV than some of the bigger and better-known digital media companies.

On July 22, Watson is convening some of the brightest stars from television, politics, business and entertainment for a day of lively discussion, food and music. This is undoubtedly the only festival anywhere in the world to feature both conservative radio and TV host Hugh Hewitt and pop star Jason Derulo.

Watson and Couric, a global news anchor for Yahoo, chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about the festival and about covering politics in the age of Trump. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

You mentioned that you're on the board of the Aspen Institute, and recently attended the Aspen Ideas Festival. Has the tone and tenor of these kinds of events become darker and more serious in light of what's happening right now in Washington?

Couric: I think we'll have to see how the tone is different. I mean, at the Ideas Festival this year, there weren't many people from the administration who participated, which is fairly unusual. Oftentimes the administration sends a number of people, but there weren't very many from the Trump administration. I think people are sort of confused by everything that's happening. But I think as a result of the daily news and the daily onslaught, and sort of the latest headlines, that sometimes bigger issues aren't discussed. And, they get short shrift. And, as a result, I think the conferences — including Ozy Fest — give people an opportunity to talk about things that maybe are not being dealt with on a daily basis, because of the influx of Trump news that's happening. 

Watson: I think President Trump's election and administration is such a departure from the norm, whether you support it or not, that people can't help but pay attention to it. And so I think we'll do really good work in terms of that, whether it's Senator Gillibrand — who easily could be a candidate in 2020 — or Jeb Bush, who was a candidate in 2016. Or really thoughtful commentators, like Hugh Hewitt. Or Van Jones or others. I think that's going to be a meaningful part of what we do, but the fact that we do it outside means you're going to get good food and good music, too. ... I think it's going to be the right mix.

Have either of you experienced a news cycle that has moved as quickly as it is now, with major stories breaking left and right?

Couric: I've definitely never seen anything like it in my lifetime, with incoming events coming at you fast and furiously, and trying to make sense of it, trying to have context and perspective. I think it's a really challenging time for the media, obviously. There's a lot of hostility toward the media as well, which makes it I think even more difficult for people at times. But obviously a free press is incredibly important, and I commend everybody who is working day in and day out to cover what's happening in this administration. And to try to put it into context. I think what's happening, though, is you get a big story and it happens and then it seems to go away, in a way. There's so many controversies and scandals that are happening, and then it suddenly just feels like yet another one, and I think we have to be on guard for normalizing all this. You know, everything that's happening.

I also wonder if the news cycle is going to continue at this pace for the next three and a half years. The media seems to be in overdrive. But there's also definitely a huge appetite for news right now.

Couric: As Carlos said, it's such an unconventional presidency, and there are many questions about certain events that people are really, really interested in, so it's very important, I think, to cover it as much as possible. And I think a lot of it is, as you say, because of the demand. And I think as long as people demand it, media outlets are going to supply it. Whether or not people tire of it or just, you know, are on Trump overload, I think that remains to be seen. But right now, the administration continues to give journalists plenty of material. 

How has the Trump election impacted Ozy? Traffic seems to be up across the industry, generally.

Watson: For all of us, this has been a great moment, and more people are watching, and reading, and listening, whether they do it on the site or on Facebook or via email or via television or even at festivals. When we look back, we probably will have tripled our audience over the last 12 months across all those different things. ... At this moment, where so much is happening, there also has been a hunger — on the part of our audience — not only to catch up or bolt ahead, but sometimes just to go deep.