Kara Swisher

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Mayer Confirms Hire of News Star Couric as “Global Anchor,” Calling Her the “Face of Yahoo News”

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As AllThingsD had reported it would today, Yahoo said it has hired well-known TV news star Katie Couric for a high-profile job to do interviews and more on its homepage, with the decidedly lofty title of “global anchor.”

Mayer also called Couric “the face of Yahoo News.”

The famous broadcaster will start at an unspecified time in 2014, according to a post by CEO Marissa Mayer on Yahoo’s blog. It was titled “Welcome aboard, Katie. Anchors aweigh!” (although I am simply not down with the TV-news/boat metaphor mashup).

Mayer said Couric would “lead a growing team of correspondents at Yahoo News who will cover the world’s most interesting stories and newsmakers.” The move is a fascinating one for Couric, to be sure, who has dabbled in the digital space over many years in a variety of ways, from Twitter to special online-only broadcasts.

With this deal, Couric will now be fully doused, if you want to keep with Mayer’s “Land, ho!” meme.

Otherwise, Mayer was decidedly vague about what Couric will do, although multiple sources said she was being paid millions of dollars as part of the deal. Sources noted that the plans are still being formulated by Couric, who will work from New York.

In a press release, Mayer said, in part (the rest is below): “News is a definitive daily habit for our users — and Katie will work with our talented editorial team to pioneer a new chapter of digital journalism.”

Said Couric: “It’s very exciting to be a part of a leading company at the intersection of content and technology … Joining Yahoo offers a tremendous opportunity to reach people all around the world in the way that they’re using and consuming media today.”

As part of the change, Couric will no longer be a ABC News special correspondent, but will continue to do her syndicated show, “Katie,” for the broadcast network. It is in its second season, and it is not clear whether it will be renewed as yet, although that seems unlikely.

Interestingly, Couric will still have a link with ABC News, since it is Yahoo’s online news partner, and her work for the online site could appear on the network’s news programs, said several sources at ABC and Yahoo.

The deal, which has been in the works since earlier this year, has been personally pushed by Mayer, who has been focused on bringing more attention to the Silicon Valley Internet giant. At first, she made a frenetic series of acquisitions of mostly mobile startups to underscore Yahoo’s new commitment to innovation.

Now Mayer has turned her focus to goosing the company’s powerful content sites.

Thus, Couric, who had been actually been talking to Yahoo’s former media and sales head Ross Levinsohn since early 2011, before Mayer arrived. But Mayer — along with Yahoo News head Rob Barrett — revved up the talks, according to multiple sources, beginning at a company event for marketers in the Turks and Caicos, which Couric attended.

It was there, sources said, that the pair began to discuss a possible series of shows that Couric could do for Yahoo, leveraging the massive traffic from its powerful homepage.

It’s not clear exactly when the shows will debut, but they will center on exclusive interviews with a range of high-profile celebrities and business execs, as well as live news events.

There have been negotiations among the trio over many months, since Disney-owned ABC apparently held the rights to Couric’s digital output for the term of her ongoing contract.

Most of all, perhaps, this is the latest flashy move by Mayer to try to goose the staid image of Yahoo and provide users with unique reasons to come there. Couric and other content initiatives are part of a larger plan to differentiate the site.

Mayer has spearheaded the latest efforts herself, using her own tech-celeb status, including hiring the New York Times’ tech reviewer David Pogue for a new tech site, and also engaging in talks with well-known TV personality and producer Ryan Seacrest about possible ideas.

While there has been quite a bit of sniping on Twitter about the Couric hire — and, to be honest, in the TV industry, whose backbiting makes Internet critics look like pikers — it is a decidedly novel shift by Couric.

As I wrote over the weekend:

It’s a risky gambit, in some ways. No big TV name in the news arena has successfully jumped to the Web, with the fascinating exception of former Fox News cable TV host Glenn Beck. His variety of independent effort, which he calls a “fusion of entertainment and enlightenment,” is a clear financial and audience hit. That’s largely due to Beck’s rabid fan base that pays a subscription fee for some content.

Couric is certainly a big name for Yahoo to land, and the company will surely aim both money and Web traffic at her in an effort to succeed. She is also a charming ringer to trot out to advertisers, of course.

In the past, Couric has done less-prominent appearances for Yahoo, including in New York at the NewFront ad event, and there is an offering called “Katie’s Take” on Yahoo News, basically repurposed content from her ABC daytime talk show.

Couric has worked for all three major broadcast network, coming to ABC after she left her job as news anchor at CBS, and previously as longtime star of NBC’s “Today Show.”

Strengthening its online video efforts has been a recent key focus for Mayer in reviving Yahoo’s fortunes, along with mobile. Yahoo already tried unsuccessfully to buy France’s Dailymotion, and has since been mulling other major acquisitions in the space.

Video ads are a big area of revenue growth online, as traditional graphical ads fade. Yahoo itself has seen a sharp falloff of those key moneymaking ads under Mayer’s regime, part of a larger trend impacting everyone.

In the midst of all this Mayer deal-making, Yahoo is still without a media chief, since the departure of Mickie Rosen this summer; it also recently lost its video head, Erin McPherson. Internal sources said Mayer has said she is aiming to hire top television execs for the jobs, to underscore the company’s commitment to video.

While the blog post was skinny on deets, here is the full press release:

KATIE COURIC TO JOIN YAHOO NEWS AS GLOBAL ANCHOR

Katie to Anchor Yahoo News

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Nov. 18, 2013 – Yahoo announced today that award-winning journalist, best-selling author and television host Katie Couric is joining the company as Global Anchor, as part of Yahoo’s ongoing commitment to re-imagine how news and information is delivered and consumed. Beginning in 2014, Katie will help develop Yahoo News’ coverage with a growing team of global correspondents who will report on live world events, anchor groundbreaking interviews with major newsmakers and thought leaders, and much more. In addition to her new role at Yahoo, Katie will continue to host her syndicated daytime talk show, Katie.

“Katie’s depth of experience, her intellectual curiosity, and her charisma make her the perfect choice to anchor Yahoo News and the whole Yahoo Network. Her unmatched energy, savvy, and versatility enables her to connect with audiences across the globe,” said Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. “News is a definitive daily habit for our users — and Katie will work with our talented editorial team to pioneer a new chapter of digital journalism.”

“It’s very exciting to be a part of a leading company at the intersection of content and technology,” said Katie Couric. “I have great admiration for Marissa Mayer and her team and their commitment to bringing news, entertainment and information to the Yahoo community across multiple platforms. Joining Yahoo offers a tremendous opportunity to reach people all around the world in the way that they’re using and consuming media today.”

Yahoo is committed to inspiring and entertaining its 800 million users worldwide with trusted news and original content, delivered in new ways through innovative product experiences. The company is investing in top talent and leading industry voices, with recent hires including tech columnist David Pogue, Yahoo News editor in chief Megan Liberman, and national political columnist Matt Bai. Yahoo continues to work closely with partners like ABC News to cover live events through its growing digital video network.Yahoo continues to work closely with partners like ABC News to cover live events through its growing digital video network.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald