As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the chairman of the board of alumni trustees of the Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia University’s student newspaper. Every February, the Spectator has a big awards dinner. We always have high-profile keynote speakers. Recent ones have included Arianna Huffington (Joan Didion presented an award at that dinner as well); Julius Genachowski, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; and Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times.
This year’s dinner took place on Friday and our featured guest was Katie Couric, special correspondent for ABC News and global news anchor for Yahoo. Instead of doing a standard, standing-at-a-podium speech, she sat down for a chat with David Westin, former president of ABC News. It was very engaging.
I live-tweeted the conversation. Katie had a lot of good stories about how she started her career by boldly turning up at newsrooms and asking for a tour. Learn to differentiate yourself, she urged students in attendance. Take chances! She went to CNN even though network people looked down their noses as the upstart “Chicken Noodle Network.” That experience helped her get those 10,000 hours of experience that Malcolm Gladwell says you need to become an expert. I particularly enjoyed her anecdote about the time she was offered a co-anchor job at NBC’s “Today” show in 1991, and she insisted on a 50/50 division of labor with host Bryant Gumbel. She didn’t want to be kept away from the big stories and wind up doing only lighter fare like cooking segments. (“I’m a raging feminist and I’m proud of it,” Katie said.) The network honchos replied, “How about 52/48?” And Katie said, “I’ll take it!” It’s such a good example of workplace negotiation: Ask for exactly what you want, but recognize when you’ve won the big battle and can afford to compromise a little.
Before Katie and David went on, former New York Times executive editor and Spec alum Max Frankel presented Dick Wald with Spectator’s lifetime achievement award. (Max received the award himself last year.) Max’s introduction of Dick was more like a highlarious roast, covering Dick’s years as an executive at NBC and then ABC; his teaching career at Columbia; and his 40-year term as Spectator’s chairman. That’s not a typo: Dick really did spend FORTY years as Spec’s chairman. That’s why I wrote new bylaws with term limits when I succeeded Dick, because there’s no way I’m committing to a 40-year job! I wish I taped Max’s speech, which, as far as we in the audience could discern, was given without reference to any notes. I came to my senses as Dick began his acceptance/rebuttal, and captured most of it. Even if you don’t care about journalists or Columbia University, you want to hear the punchline for the anecdote about the lady with the stick. Trust me!
I posed for a picture with Dick after his speech.
This event has changed a lot over the past few years and it just keeps getting better. Our new venue — the New York Athletic Club — was very impressive. I was also awed by the big run-of-show book put together by Spec student publisher Michael Ouimette and his team.
It included all the guest names; what the guests were eating; the seating chart; who on staff was in charge of bringing what supplies; a minute-by-minute timeline of the entire evening; and the photos and names of important people to know. The latter is a very smart thing to do for any big event — it means that everyone behind the scenes will recognize key players and greet them appropriately. Of course, there was no chance of anyone failing to recognize Katie Couric, but plenty of new student participants hadn’t met the trustees or other alumni. I literally LOL’d in the middle of the pre-dinner board meeting when I noticed this page.
Good job, kids!
When I came home, I posed for a full-length outfit photo against an unusual background. I don’t know why this ambulance was parked on the street for the evening — isn’t there some ambulance garage where they sleep at night? — but I figured I should take advantage of it.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Patrick Kelly (Kelly’s Fall/Winter 1988 collection; acquired in 2009, last seen here.)
Purse: Prada (2007)
Boots: Prada (2008, previously seen here)
Belt: Calvin Klein (2009)
Hair: Julie Matos of Warren-Tricomi
Makeup: By Tennille Nielsen
I styled this dress exactly as I did when I wore it to a Patrick Kelly exhibition preview in October 2013. I don’t worry about changing things up. If it worked well once, it will work well 10 times, as far as I’m concerned.
UPDATED TO ADD: The New York Observer did a write-up of the event and seemed very impressed with how fancy we were. Not as impressed as I was! Note: The timeline in my post is the correct one. Max and Dick were listed in the program as appearing after Katie and David, but we made a last-minute change and they wound up going on before before the keynote.
It sounds like you’re enjoying your stint as chairman, and that you’re doing it in distinguished company. How cool!
I love the dress you wore.
It’s been an interesting experience!