Emmy Award–winning journalist Gayle King took the stage of The Paley Center Tuesday night. Currently a co-host of CBS This Morning and Editor-At-Large of The Oprah Magazine (aka O Magazine), Gayle’s held many illustrious positions over the years, including host of The Gayle King Show. As part of the She’s Making News series, to air this fall on PBS, Pat Mitchell, TEDxWomen’s hostess with the mostess, asked Gayle about her wide-ranging career.
Gayle shared candidly on many subjects. She’s not nervous, for example, before conducting interviews because she’s prepared and genuinely interested in what people have to say. Throughout the night, it was clear how much Gayle enjoys people and what makes them tick–especially her family and friends.
Gayle shared the story of how her friendship with Oprah Winfrey began: They were working at the same station in Baltimore; Gayle was twenty-one years old, Oprah twenty-two (Gayle: “she’s still older.”) A snowstorm hit and Gayle’s apartment was 45 minutes away. Oprah offered her a place to stay — along with clean clothes and pajamas, but drawing the line at sharing her toothbrush. “It’s like when you’re spending the night at your best friend’s house when you’re twelve, thirteen.” Up all night talking, and “we’ve been friends ever since then.”
But, Gayle wanted to make clear, she and Oprah are not any different from any other close girlfriends. And that men don’t always get this kind of friendship, whereas women often do. They get that your close girlfriend, she’ll be the one to know your favorite color, the last time you cried, what makes you really happy. She referenced Madeleine Albright’s line: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
(We also like how our own Pat Mitchell puts it: “every woman needs a posse.”)
Gayle’s prioritizing of those she loves has shaped her career choices. Years ago, when Gayle was in Hartford, Oprah called, asking Gayle to join her new endeavor, The Oprah Winfrey Show (chances are you’ve heard of it — and if you haven’t, get out from under that rock!). Pat asked how she could have turned that down. Gayle’s response: “Well, because my children and their relationship to their dad was more important to me than the job. You know, it wasn’t even a close call.” At the time Gayle was living in Hartford, recently divorced, with a five and six-year old, and moving to Chicago just wasn’t an option. In weighing career vs. family, Gayle put it this way: “We will all be trivia questions in this business one day. What was the name of that girl that used to anchor the news… I don’t ever intend to be that with my children. Ever. Ever.”
But fast forward some years, and Oprah called with another job opportunity — for Gayle to lead the formation of O Magazine. Like biting into a lemon is how Gayle described her first response, she did television not a magazine, but then she started thinking about it, became intrigued and decided it was time for something new. The magazine world was new for both her and Oprah, as they figured out the big and little things around them, like TOC meaning Table of Contents. “It wasn’t something that I dreamed of doing, or even thought about doing. So it does show you how things can come into your life that you don’t plan and really turn out to be huge, huge, huge opportunities.”
And Gayle’s thrived: O Magazine just won a 2012 National Magazine Award for General Excellence (for the uninitiated, Gayle gave context: like winning Best Picture at the Oscars).
On top of all that, Gayle’s also over at CBS almost every morning of the week, waking up at 3:30am. Appropriate for a newswoman, she’s got a TV in every room of her house (yes, that includes the bathroom). Gayle agreed with Pat’s observation that CBS This Morning is the perfect fit for her wide-ranging interests, from the silly to the heart breakingly serious, like her recent interview with Trayvon Martin’s parents. In all situations, her interest in others — what she’s says once got her called nosy and she now calls inquisitive — guides her.
Gayle’s confidence and ease radiates. Young women feeling less sure of themselves may take solace in knowing that Gayle didn’t always know what she wanted to do. She was planning on either being a child psychologist or going to law school. “I can remember just feeling overwhelmed sitting there at the University of Maryland… thinking, ‘oh my gosh, how am I ever going to find my way.”
But then she got a job at a TV station and “it just clicked for me. It just really clicked.” From there Gayle found her way forward with hard work, and just as importantly, having a good time — a spirit which infuses her work. She says after 40 she really hit her stride, and now at 57: “I’m doing the hula every damn day.”
Gayle shared that O magazine recently did the theme Express Yourself, and everyone was asked to write a six word memoir. Six words to describe your life philosophy and how you feel about yourself and/or your life. Gayle’s: “I am definitely in my zone.” (Yep, from the Jay-Z song. Gayle’s a big fan!)
What would be your six word memoir?