Q&A: Curry Takes Off For South Pole

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Two weeks in the life of the increasingly peripatetic Ann Curry:
Curl up on “Today” colleague Hoda Kotb’s couch for a three-hankie interview about Ms. Kotb’s battle with breast cancer earlier this year.
Travel to Pakistan to interview former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who survived a deadly attack after coming back to the country she once led.
Return home for three days to attend to family and fulfill duties as news anchor and fourth-hour co-anchor of NBC’s “Today.”
Take off again for her most extreme destination yet: the South Pole.
Over the weekend, Ms. Curry and a hand-picked crew of two engineers, a cameraman, a soundman and a producer, were scheduled to begin the first leg of their trip to Antarctica, whence, if all goes well, they will broadcast live Nov. 5-6 while Matt Lauer and Al Roker report in from Greenland and Ecuador, respectively, in an environmentally inspired undertaking called “The Ends of the Earth.”
Before she left, Ms. Curry talked with TelevisionWeek National Editor Michele Greppi about topics ranging from her work ethic and attitude toward ego, to her lack of tolerance for the cold, to her addiction to her BlackBerry.
TelevisionWeek: We half expected you to come back from Pakistan from the other direction and pop up in California covering the fires.
Ann Curry: Well, I half expected to do that as well, but I think it was good that I came back here [to New York].
TVWeek: So how is the woman we’re calling “The Face of NBC News” holding up with all the travel you’ve been doing, and the extra hours? How do you stay strong and fresh and refreshed?
Ms. Curry: The thing that’s starting to happen that’s interesting is that people on the street who may earn the minimum wage, people who are making the hotdogs on the street, those people are coming up to me and saying things like, “Boy, I hope you’re getting a raise. You’re working so hard. Are they paying you enough money?” It’s so wild to have someone who is just earning minimum wage worrying about whether I’m being taken care of, because they’re worrying I’m working too hard. I’ve had that happen a lot lately. That’s when I started to think, “Hmm. Maybe I am really working too hard.” Look, in terms of how to stay refreshed, it’s really about love of the work and the opportunity to do good with it. But is it demanding? Absolutely. Do I feel like I’m on a fast horse? Yeah. I’m not just on a fast horse without a saddle, I’m on a wild leopard and it’s going very fast. Sometimes it does feel as though you’re going way too fast. Other times it feels very balanced.
What’s become clear this year is that I have never before been more aware about my mission and I’ve never before been more pure in my motives in terms of this work, and when I’m doing what is in sync with that I have all the energy in the world. When I’m doing stuff that may not be completely in sync with that, that’s when I start to feel tired.
TVWeek: You’re talking about being on a fast horse. Who in your life will guarantee—and how will they do it—that all of a sudden that horse doesn’t become a high horse?
Ms. Curry: It’s not in my nature. That’s, I think, fundamentally true. You should talk to people who would tell you it’s not in my nature to be on a high horse. I’m the anti-egomaniac. I’m the anti-TV person, if that’s what you’re suggesting.
TVWeek: I’m just asking how you guard against it or who in your life will say, “Uh, excuuuuuse me, ma’am.” We all get too confident in what we’re doing, and the next thing we know we trip over a crack in the sidewalk and it reminds us we should keep our eyes focused on where we’re going.
Ms. Curry: What helps with that is to be mindful about what my mission is, what I’m trying to do, and that is to focus on work that is meaningful and useful. That’s how I roll. That’s how I choose. When I’m in that zone, when I’m working on a story that could be useful, as in I think the interview with Benazir Bhutto … And I’m also humble, I’m very humbled by the fact that there’s only so much I can put on television about it, so I can only be so useful about it. So my focus then is to simply be as useful and powerful, not me, but the story.
But in terms of the other question, look, I have a family that needs me and a family that’s been incredibly generous in sharing me. But there’s a limit, and when I feel and they feel it’s too much, they come first. I think we’re pretty close to that. You go off and you cover these stories and then you’re back and you’re around a lot and I don’t give up any of my—I’m a full-time mom. The time that I’m not at work, I’m a mom, picking up the kids and cooking and homework and all that stuff. So it’s a pretty big job, and I work a lot harder than people realize looking at me on TV. I mean, the home job is my job. The issue is when I leave.
My biggest concern about Antarctica is not the adventure and the risk factor of going to the South Pole and all that. It’s just being away from my family more than a week. And it may be a week and a half. It may be two if I can’t get a flight back. These things are very uncertain. It’s uncertain I’m going to make it there on time and it’s uncertain that I’m going to get back soon enough. You can’t guarantee when the flights are going to leave.
TVWeek: When do you leave and how long will it take to get there under optimal circumstances? How do you actually get there?
Ms. Curry: Right now I’m scheduled to leave Saturday, and I just got back from Pakistan yesterday. I should be there Wednesday or Thursday. We make two stops in New Zealand. We end up in Christchurch and then we fly to the edge of the Antarctica continental shelf. P.S.: In Christchurch we’ll be outfitted with all kinds of special gear that is fitted to us, the thermal clothing, the appropriate sunglasses and parkas and stuff, because you just don’t go buy this stuff at your local gear shop. This is pretty specialized stuff.
TVWeek: You had to go through some pretty rigorous preliminary things to go.
Ms. Curry: The medical forms that have to be filled out satisfactorily are more than an inch thick. Stress test. Blood test. Every single possible test. Even my dental records. Every kind of doctor you need to go to to stay alive, that doctor I’ve seen and they’ve checked me out thoroughly, so that there will not be a medical emergency for me when we’re there. It’s because they can’t guarantee when they can get me out. That’s what’s so gnarly about this. They don’t want to be in a situation where they don’t have the medical personnel to treat me.
TVWeek: You will actually be positioned where?
Ms. Curry: I’m going to go all the way to the South Pole. I will report live from McMurdo Research Station, the base where the big core drilling is happening and all the big scientists are looking at those core samples for evidence of climate change. All those big-deal scientists are going to be there now because this is a good weather time. That’s on our side, anyway. November is a fantastic time to go to Antarctica.
TVWeek: Did you volunteer for this particular spot?
Ms. Curry: No. I think I was picked because the assumption was I could pass the physical tests. It was an assignment that came from [executive producer] Jim Bell.
TVWeek: What’s the coldest spot you’ve ever been in prior to this?
Ms. Curry: Maybe Mount St. Helens during the winter. That was pretty cold, but that was nowhere near zero. I would say that I have not dealt with this kind of bone-chilling temperature. I get cold easily. P.S.: I hate to be cold. I get cold when most people are warm. I get cold in air-conditioning. When I get into a car and the air-conditioning is on, I’m the one that is flipping off the air-conditioning and opening the windows. I’m going to take a box of those warmers that you buy.
TVWeek: Any other personal items you plan to take?
Ms. Curry: Oh, yeah, a box of Starbucks double espresso with cream cans. I can’t do without the coffee. I understand I need to take a lot of moisturizer, because apparently it’s very, very dry. There’s a whole list of what I’m supposed to pack. The thing is, what we’re packing in, we pack out. Our team is going to try for zero impact in terms of garbage and that kind of stuff. We’re putting everything in containers so we don’t create a lot of garbage. I’m a very light traveler. I’m not above wearing things twice or three times.
TVWeek: Any technological things you have to be cognizant of down there?
Ms. Curry: We’re going to be using a broadband system that the scientists down there have. There has never been a live shot using that. Technically there’s no reason why one can not happen through that system, but you just don’t hit a satellite from the South Pole. So I’m worried about whether it’s going to be effective. We have a team that has been discussing the technical aspect several times a week. We’re actually talking several times a week with people down in McMurdo so that we have full clarity as to what we can expect. But I’m taking a really highly trained, hand-picked crew. If it’s possible, and it is possible, we’re going to be able to pull it off. Technically, my own personal worry is how much I’m going to shake, not from the cold but not being able to use my BlackBerry.
TVWeek: You are a BlackBerry freak?Ms. Curry: Ummmm. Oh, baby. I interviewed Benazir Bhutto with questions on my BlackBerry. I have typed speeches and stories on my BlackBerry. I type faster on my BlackBerry than on my computer. And I don’t have carpal tunnel yet.
TVWeek: How did it feel to find out that “The Early Show” got Ms. Bhutto on the phone so that they could get their interview on the air a few minutes before yours?
Ms. Curry: I laughed a little because I thought, well, it shows that they can see Bhutto is an important interview. Anytime that I can do work that makes people think about covering stories that they’re not already covering, I think that’s fantastic. There’s nothing like someone mirroring what you do. It is a compliment. So of course I was pleased by it. What is happening in Pakistan is important. The best thing was simply how everyone was on page here at this network. People here could not have cheered louder, not only the suits but the rank and file, my colleagues—to have people who are correspondents and producers I admire and work with e-mail me and tell me how important this work is and that we have to keep fighting for the Big J. That means so much to me.
Because of the time frame I’m going to miss that big Halloween thing we do every year. This is the first time since I’ve been at the “Today” program that I won’t be dressing up for Halloween. They were all sort of fussing about that. I had organized a costume. But I’m going to give it to Hoda [Kotb] to wear.
TVWeek: Any other thoughts?
Ms. Curry: I hope we can be hugely effective in visualizing any evidence of climate change, pro or con. I want to see, not just hear, what these core samples show us. Our wish is to get a kind of clarity about something I know is worrying people, especially young people. I said to my son, “You know, I’m really sorry. I’ve got to go to Antarctica. It’s a long trip.” The last time I went away with this kind of uncertainty about how long the trip was going to be was when I covered the beginning of the Iraq war, which was three weeks. He said, “Why are you going?” I said, “To see whether we have any visual evidence of climate change.” My son‘s face completely changed from the “Why are you going?” expression to “I am so proud of you.” Boom. It’s because he, like so many young people, is worried because we don’t have all the answers. This part is what makes it worthwhile. Look, am I an adventuress? Yes. Do I love to challenge myself and go to places simply for the adventure? Absolutely. But the real thing that excites me about this trip is the same thing I always come back to: How can I make this useful? What will be the good that comes of this?

One Comment

  1. Anne hope you do get to the South Pole I have my son and his girlfriend that work down there. Good luck and come back safe.

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