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How a Seattle legend discovered new ‘Today’ anchor Curry in Oregon

Ann Curry, the new co-anchor of NBC’s “Today Show,” was a product of the late Ancil Payne, longtime president of King Broadcasting and a man who spotted a lot of talent for the company, including Seattle anchor Jean Enersen.

As Payne often told the story, he was in Ashland, Oregon, for the popular Shakespearean Festival, and spotted Curry on the station at nearby Medford, KTVL-TV, where she had been hired as the station’s first female reporter. At times (Payne was a legendary story teller), he maintained that Curry was working part-time as a waitress at the time and he met her while dining and learned she was reporting for the local television station; the exact truth of the encounter is unknown to me, but Curry clearly was his “find.”

Curry isn’t the only “find” from the Payne years who became a network anchor; Aaron Brown went from King to anchor at CNN, where his first day anchoring the news was September 11, 2001; his coverage won him several awards.

Payne hired Curry in 1980 for the newsroom at King’s station in Portland, KGW-TV, where I was working as news analyst. She was immediately one of the best reporters on staff; alert, intelligent, and willing to push a question. She was also remarkably unaffected by being “on TV,” which couldn’t be said for some of the other young reporters at the time.

King Broadcasting, at the time Curry was in Portland, was still owned by the Bullitt family and still valued hard news over standups at the scene of last night’s shooting. Television news, on all three network channels, was still a potent force in Oregon journalism at the time. The KGW-TV newsroom had strong reporters; Curry was quiet and competent, working primarily as a general assignment reporter. She had the poise to be an anchor but I saw early on the determination and focus that later would result in excellent reporting from a variety of difficult international locations.

Curry’s background, living as a child in Japan with a Japanese mother and an American serviceman father, followed by a solid education at the University of Oregon, gives her personal perspective needed for a show like Today. That’s coupled with her years of reporting major stories around the world. I’m hoping she will be allowed to continue to do special-project reporting, because I think it give gravitas to a show that can be more soft than need be.

Even when she was in Portland, it was clear she wouldn’t last long in a Number 24 market, but the thinking was that she would be off to the “mother ship,” in Seattle. Instead she was picked up by KCBS in Los Angeles, where she worked from 1984 to 1990 and won a bunch of reporting awards. She has been at NBC since 1990, as reporter and anchor and has done some remarkable international reporting.

Curry is an excellent anchor and has had experience filling in as co-host on “Today,” but I’ve always felt her strength was in reporting. Her challenge will be to keep her journalistic skills honed while dealing with the inevitable fluff and promotion that comes with daytime news/entertainment programming.

I suspect she will be just fine, but I hope she maintains her commitment to news. Payne would want that.

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