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Why Katie Couric left Yahoo

“They hired some big names, and yet they were in the witness protection program.”

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Katie Couric and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
Katie Couric (right) and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Yahoo

When Katie Couric joined Yahoo in 2014, the former “Today Show” and “CBS Evening News” anchor was one of several media celebrities hired to bring renewed attention to the company, including tech reviewer David Pogue and political columnist Matt Bai. But in practice, the tech giant didn’t know how to market its stars.

“I would say to the Yahoo folks, ‘Could we please do a newsletter? I’ll push out everyone’s content,’” Couric recalled on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, a special crossover episode with Couric’s own podcast. “They hired some big names, and yet they were in the witness protection program.”

During her tenure at Yahoo, Couric sought to do high-quality journalism rather than the lower-rent stories Yahoo was best known for at the time, which she likened to “the boy who lived on ramen noodles for 13 years.” She said then-CEO Marissa Mayer was open to those aspirations, but didn’t follow through.

“I don’t think she ever understood the commitment that would take,” Couric said. “And I think she had a lot of other things on her plate, in fairness. I wouldn’t say it was an unhappy marriage, but it certainly was not fulfilling for me. I had all this great content, I was getting big interviews, and it was sort of like a tree falling in the forest.”

“They didn’t put it on the front page or they didn’t know how to — even now, they don’t have very good distribution,” she added. “They didn’t really know how to market things properly. They didn’t know how to take quality and make it scalable.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Couric also talked about the broader problem of tech companies that either don’t understand or don’t believe in journalistic values, which has limited the potential for powerful storytelling on the web.

“These tech companies are not media companies,” she said. “They do not care about stories, about content, about true connection. I think they care about widgets and gadgets and delivery systems, but they aren’t super-interested in the vegetable soup that’s running through the pipes.”

“I think the secret sauce is people who are technologically savvy, but also respect and care about storytelling,” Couric added. “The company that combines those two things is gonna win the day. I haven’t really found it yet.”

She ultimately left Yahoo after it was merged into Verizon-owned AOL to form Oath. On the way out, she said she told Oath CEO Tim Armstrong that the company should be called “Rize,” as both an optimistic brand and a play on the word “Verizon” — but the new name was already locked in.

“I think they paid a lot of money to come up with Oath,” Couric said. “Whatever.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the mediaworld, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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