It can be hard enough to digest the news of the world, be it COVID-19 or the war in Ukraine, when a news consumer wakes up in the morning. It is a heckuva lot harder to process it all and deliver it to morning TV viewers as they sip coffee and get the kids off to school.
Speaking just before Russia invaded Ukraine, Hoda Kotb discussed witnessing world history from the front row. “It’s been horrifying and saddening and awe-inspiring at the same time,” she said. “This is a moment in history like no other. Sometimes you just can’t believe this is the part of history you’re witnessing in your lifetime.”
The Today co-anchor is precisely where she wants to be at 7 a.m. each weekday, even if she never quite let herself dream about that scenario. “I get to do a job that was so far out of my mind, it wasn’t even in the dream,” Kotb said.
Kotb grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, her parents coming to America from Egypt to attend college. She described “a kind of idyllic childhood” in a neighborhood where everyone looked out for each other. She played high school basketball, getting by on grit. “I played with heart and I loved it,” Kotb said.
Took to TV Journalism
Her parents were “newsies,” Kotb said, always with the news on TV, and that was a factor in her studying broadcast journalism at Virginia Tech.
“I fell in love with storytelling,” Kotb said. “I covered city council meetings, and it was, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing!’”
When it came time to find a job in local TV, Kotb drove her mother’s car all over Virginia, getting a no in each market, but also coming away with a suggestion about someone in a smaller market who might be looking for an entry-level reporter. “I never left a station without another one to go to,” Kotb said.
She finally interviewed in Greenville, Mississippi. The WXVT news director was promoted from sport director the day before, and hired the woman he called “Hilda” after watching her “horrible” tape, she said.
“He said, ‘We’ll pay you nothing and you’ll work all the time,’ ” she said. “I have never been more grateful in my life for a job.”
Kotb moved on to WQAD Moline, Illinois; then WINK Fort Myers, Florida; then WWL New Orleans. Kotb adored that city and job, and NBC called about a position at Dateline NBC in 1998. Neal Shapiro, CEO of The WNET Group, was a Dateline executive producer. He met Kotb in New Orleans. Some talent pops on camera more so than in person, he said. Kotb popped on camera — and was even warmer in person.
“Delightful, charming, curious,” he said. “She had a lot of great qualities.”
Kotb started at Dateline, and when Shapiro was promoted to NBC News president in 2001, he put her on a range of NBC News programs. “Everywhere she went, Hoda impressed,” he said. “People saw in her what I saw.”
Co-anchor and fellow 2022 Hall of Famer Savannah Guthrie said Kotb brings “intense smarts” and a lot of warmth. “She’s so funny and loving and warm, which everyone knows from the fourth hour, but may have missed the fact that she’s an incredibly smart and astute journalist,” she said. “She’s also a great writer and great communicator.”
Being the child of immigrants has helped Kotb as a journalist. Her friends growing up would visit their grandmother in a neighboring state, while she hopped on a plane to Egypt to do so. “It made the world small,” she said. “You realize, people here are like us, and people there are like us. People all around are human beings.”
Kotb is up at 3:15 each weekday. To unwind, she plays with her kids, who are 5 and 3. She enjoys strumming the guitar — “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a favorite — walking through Central Park and shooting hoops, never leaving the playground on a missed shot.
The news can feel a bit overwhelming, but Kotb anticipates things eventually getting back to a more sedate state.
“Nothing is a hurricane 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “Hurricanes come and go. We’ll hopefully get to a point where we get back to life, and we get back to other stories that lead our newscast.” ■
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.