I received a welcome surprise in the mail this week as one of my old news photographers sent me a DVD of a feature story we did together over 10 years ago. But much more than the experience, this was a story of overcoming adversity. Let me explain.
It was late 2002, this was of course less than 1 year after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Security in NYC, especially on TV shows was at an all time high. However, I worked as a news anchor/reporter at the time. My general nature, no matter what I am involved in professionally, is to meet and learn from the best in the world at that particular skill. In 2002, there was no more popular or successful show on the airwaves than “The Today Show.”I worked for NBC affiliate WBOY-TV in Clarksburg, WV at the time.
Even though our station existed in one of the smallest markets in the country, I wanted to meet the “Today Show” team and see what it was like to be the best in the world at my particular job. I asked our PR/Marketing director if she had the contact info for NBC corporate in NYC. She told me they rarely accept feature stories from small markets, but I was welcome to try. This of course lit even more of a fire in my belly to make a run at it. I called and emailed the Public Relations contact that day and began the waiting game. It was 2 months before I received a response.
I was told that we could come up and do a behind the scenes feature on the show, but that the likelihood of being able to talk to any of the on-air personalities was slim. Couple that with the fact that the drive to NYC from West Virginia was 13 hours and we would have to pay for our own hotel room in downtown, and it was beginning to look like a mighty big obstacle to overcome.
I talked with my photographer Mike and we agreed that the opportunity to be on set and visit Studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza was completely worth the price of admission we were about to pay.
Fast forward to the trip itself. After a 13 hour drive we get into downtown NYC at nearly midnight the night before our shoot and pay $500 for a hotel room we were only going to sleep in for 5 hours! When you’re only making 16K a year, that’s a pretty big hit to the old pocketbook.
We wake up at 5AM and walk 10 city blocks with all of our equipment to the studio. Needless to say we were already exhausted. I walked into the reception desk and we rendezvoused with the PR director who assured us that we could speak with Al Roker that morning, but that no other on-air personality wold have time for us. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge and this instance was no different. She did grant us access to both the outdoor and indoor studios to film the various aspects of the show.
While in the studio, Katie Couric walked off set during a commercial break and looked at me and said very kindly, “who are you, I’ve never seen you in here before?” I introduced myself and told her why we were there and that we wished we could spend time with her, but understood she was a busy woman and that just meeting her was a true honor. Surprising she looked at me and said, “that’s nonsense! I’m not going to let someone drive 13 hours and not get what they came for. Matt (Lauer) and I will sit down with you for 15 minutes after the show. We appreciate you coming to talk to us.”
I was absolutely floored! Katie at the time was one of the most powerful women in TV and showed true class and generosity to someone she didn’t even know. That spoke volumes to me about her character.
The next 2 hours were some of the most thrilling of my early career in TV. Here’s the video that we came up with as a result of those 2 hours at “The Today Show.”
If you’re saying, “how cool!” then you know how I felt. It was an awesome experience and it taught me 2 valuable lessons:
1) Never give up – If you are persistent and keep taking the next step, you will get to your goal. In my case, my photographer Mike and I exceeded that goal and got the chance to experience what few others have.
2) Be humble – Katie Couric could have easily blown me off and went on with her day, but she took the time to not only talk to me, but to give me an experience I won’t soon forget. This showed me in a round about way, that no matter how rich or famous I could ever become, that I will always be a human being just like everyone else and all of us deserve to be treated others as equals and not subordinates. Thank you Katie!
You’re a true pro and a pioneer we can all look up to!