“Hold on. Oprah is Periscoping,” says Ameya Pendse, Audience Development Manager for Yahoo Live, texting a coworker. A few minutes earlier, our group of NYU Summer Publishing Institute students had stood in a state-of-the art video studio and listened as Katie Couric, now Yahoo’s Global Anchor, told us about her decision to join the media giant: “I wanted to be on the cutting edge,” she explained. We were getting the point that Yahoo, our old friend the search engine, is at the center of digital creativity, proudly offering its audience verticals known as “digital magazines” and expanding in all directions.
The Yahoo hallways once housed the New York Times. Totally transformed, the space is sleek and modern, notably the digital studio where Russ Torres, Senior Director & Deputy Head of Yahoo Studios, guides us through a tour. “Five of our magazines are leading or are in the top five positions of their categories,” he says. “I think we’ve captured something special.”
Laura Begley Bloom, Executive Editor of Yahoo Travel and organizer of our behind-the-scenes visit, echoes the sentiment: “We keep our eye on everybody. The entire Internet is our competition.”
Joe Zee, Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Style, barely contains his excitement for Yahoo’s digital magazines. “When I told people we were launching a digital magazine they said, ‘Call it whatever you want. It’s a website.’ But then I showed them and they got it.” Zee recognizes that trends rapidly change, but the purpose remains—engaging and entertaining an audience in the best possible way.
Achieving this means staying connected, especially with new technologies like Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming video app. Pendse, who considers his team the “social police,” is passionate about growing Yahoo’s audience. A recent victory? Having Kim Kardashian tweet Couric’s segment on the Armenian Genocide. Staying connected is more than social media, though. Paul Godino, Global Operations Management Director, says that he also looks for employees who can “break down walls” and build trust both within the company and with its partners.
Couric, who produces abundant original content, was hired in 2013 and renewed her contract last week. She made time to chat with us about her career and her foray into the liberating experience at Yahoo.
The digital medium, she tells us, has “so much more real estate” than television, where shows may be cut to fit scheduling. This freedom allows her to cover breaking news like Jeb Bush’s presidential announcement or create “Now I Get It,” a short informative segment analyzing major issues. While Couric notes that Yahoo may have occasional growing pains, she sees a company that is “expanding optimistically instead of managing decline.”
With so many digital competitors, says Couric, “getting the content out there and keeping current when audiences are overwhelmed by all the great outlets available” is one of the primary challenges she and her team face. Creating successful content needs a team that knows a little bit of everything. “The business has changed so much. You need to be a hustler now,” she notes.
Lori Bongiorno, Director of Media Incentives, excitedly tells us how much she loves digital media: “I get to work with editorial content and engage with audiences every day.” Sara Bliss, Senior Writer with Yahoo Beauty, creates five to ten stories per week, crafting meaningful digital articles and inspiring audiences. She enjoys how digital media has become fast-paced and more exciting for editors. “The lines [between content creation, design, and marketing] are so blurred now.” For Kaye Foley, Associate Producer of Yahoo News, working at Yahoo is about “being different and trying new things.” She also emphasizes valuing relationships built throughout a career. That’s advice that Megan Levinson, PR Manager of Yahoo Lifestyles, finds valuable. “You’ll never know who you’ll work with and who will be your boss.”
Older generations, Couric points out as we near the end of our conversation, perceive Millennials as entitled. These young, creative professionals must “defy impressions” and change with a business that has transformed quickly. In the end, we should follow the advice Couric’s mother shared with her at the start of her career: “Let them know you’re there.”
by Andrew Kimmel