Ann Curry On Journalism, Her PBS Series And Working On The 'Today' Show

Feb 22, 2018

Journalist Ann Curry's parents met in Japan after World War II. Her American father was stationed there, and her mother was Japanese. But when her father asked the military for permission to marry, the military refused — at the time, servicemen weren't allowed to marry Japanese women.

Her father was quickly reassigned, and two years went by before Curry's parents reunited. Even then things weren't easy — her grandmother disapproved of the match, her mother contracted tuberculosis. But the pair managed to defeat the odds and start a family in the U.S.

Now, Curry has a PBS series in which she highlights reunions like that of her parents. We'll Meet Again looks at people who have had brief, meaningful first encounters but have lost touch over the years. It tells the story of a woman who was rescued by a helicopter pilot after a volcanic eruption, the story of a man who was comforted by a stranger after the Sept. 11 attacks, and more.

Curry has worked in journalism for 40 years, and she spent 15 of those years working for NBC's Today show. In 2012, she was forced out of her co-anchor post opposite Matt Lauer after ratings began to decline. Executives reportedly felt Curry and Lauer didn't have chemistry. Lauer was fired from Today in November 2017 over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Curry tells NPR's It's Been a Minute that she and others faced "verbal sexual harassment" on Today. But she has pushed past that difficult time and says she's now pursuing stories that matter to her — stories she feels aren't being covered enough in today's news climate.

Interview Highlights

On where the idea for We'll Meet Again came from

It started actually with my co-executive producer, a woman named Justine Kershaw, who as a young woman had fallen off a mountain. She had been hiking, and she was in Europe. She was a dancer. And she ripped, you know, so much of herself up. She was really hurt by this fall. And there were a couple of men who were, I believe they were goat herders, and they sort of happened by and they rescued her. They carried her down the mountain. They made sure she got to care.

And then years later, after she had no longer been dancing and she now was a wife and she had children, she decided that she wanted to go back to this mountain. It was something kind of meaningful to her about it. So she went back to the mountain and she ran into, not expecting to, the goat herders. And what really stunned her was their reaction. They started sobbing and really were just so glad to see her and so glad to see how well she was doing because they never heard what happened after she had left on that emergency exit, you know, to a hospital to patch her back up.

So this sort of had been a part of her, realizing that there was this need for people to connect in these kinds of moments, and not just the person who was hurt, but the person on the other side. And so fast-forward many, many years, this thing had been percolating. She had this kind of, well, rough idea about what if we did something like that. And it kind of evolved to what it is today.

On the episode about a woman who was rescued by a helicopter pilot after the 1980 Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption

She was out hiking with a bunch of friends. They were all young people ... 19, 20 years old. They were not in an area that was deemed dangerous. They were just hiking for a period of time when all of a sudden the mountain blew. And it was so devastating because the ash cloud and the heat all came right toward their campsite. And some of them were mowed down by trees, and some of them did not survive, and some of them were so injured that they couldn't leave. But she could. Sue [Nystrom] could.

And so she hiked out even though one of her friends begged her, said, "Please don't leave me behind! Please don't leave me behind!" And she knew she had to because there was no other way that anyone could find them. And she did. And when she finally got out, a helicopter, she could hear a sound of a helicopter. And the helicopter pilot landed. You know, this very kind helicopter pilot tried to take her onto the helicopter and she stopped and she said, "I won't get on this helicopter until you promise me you'll help me find my friends. You'll go back and find my friends."

Well, the helicopter pilot was a Vietnam vet who had volunteered to come help rescue people. He was a member of the National Guard, but he could not be ordered in because the ash was still coming. It was still too dangerous — you could not order people to their death. [It was] only volunteers who came out and they were flying under the ash clouds that were still emerging from the mountain to go find people who were caught in it. And he promised her and she got on the helicopter. And she said the moment changed when he kept his promise and he turned the nose of that helicopter toward the mountain. He had kids; he had a wife. And that's what he did, that heroism. And he helped her find her friends. And that completely changed her life.

On what the workplace culture was like at Today

I don't want to be specific about any particular person because obviously we're in a situation where there has been tremendous pain on all sides, and especially by the victims. And I, as a human being — and especially one who, you know, suffered public humiliation even though I did nothing wrong, and know what that means — I don't want to be a part of that for anyone else.

But I will say that I think many of these workplaces can be halls of mirrors where people can start to kind of buy into what is happening as sort of being normal. And I think that there was a culture of verbal — things being said that were completely not appropriate. And that people sort of thought that that's what normal was. ... But I would say that any human being would say that it was pervasive and it falls under the phrase verbal sexual harassment.

On a news story she thinks isn't getting enough coverage

We are not covering many, many stories because there's so much air being sucked up by a few. ... I think the story of the Rohingya is woefully under-covered. I think that the line for me that should never be unreported are the stories of what could be, what smells like, what probably is genocide. I think genocide is the line that, if there is a reason for journalism to exist, it is to make sure we cover that story.

On her advice for young journalists

Put your head down. It's not about you. If you want to go into journalism because you want to be popular, forget it. You're in the wrong thing — go be an actress, or a singer, you know, go do something else. We are in a service job. Our job is to help people. Our job is to help people with good information. And we make mistakes doing that all the time. ...

It's not like there's one answer. It's not two plus two equals four. It requires judgment. Nobody comes out of [journalism] school knowing how to be a journalist. Nobody. Not me, not anybody. It's about the mistakes you make that teach you how to be better. And it's about the judgment that eventually you glean, that you get, that makes you better.

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