Jeff Zucker’s career is the stuff of legend. In high school in the early 1980s, he interned at the Miami Herald, getting his first taste of journalism at a leading American newspaper. He studied U.S. history at Harvard University, with an eye toward law school. As president of the Harvard Crimson, the iconic student daily whose alumni include Presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Zucker had the equivalent of a full-time job along with his demanding class schedule. Learning how to run a news organization would serve him well.
Zucker didn’t know if he wanted a career in journalism. Nevertheless, when he wasn’t accepted at law school, he thought about going back to the Miami Herald. Instead, he joined NBC Sports as a researcher for the network’s 1988 Summer Olympics coverage, traveling the world for two years to gather and write background material. He shifted to NBC News as field producer for Today in 1989, working with Katie Couric, who was then Today’s national political correspondent. Three years later, Zucker was named the show’s executive producer. He was just 26. Under his leadership, Today became the most-watched morning news program in America.
Zucker’s jet-propelled rise at NBC continued — the fastest climb up the executive ladder in TV history to that point. He was named president of NBC Entertainment in 2000, with the mission of bolstering the network’s sagging primetime ratings. In 2005 he became CEO of NBCUniversal TV Group, and president/CEO of NBCUniversal in 2007. He continued in that position until Comcast acquired NBCU in 2011.
After a quarter-century with NBC, Zucker reunited with Katie Couric as executive producer of Katie, her syndicated talk show. He was named president of CNN Worldwide in November of 2012. It was a job he was excited to do. Recalling his early career, he said: “I remember sitting in my office at the Today show, watching the Gulf War on CNN, and realizing that only CNN was in a position to bring it to the world. Nobody had ever experienced a war live in real time like that. It’s been seen as the place for breaking news ever since. People around the world rely on CNN to tell them what’s happening.” He says he was impressed and a little surprised by the network’s scope. “It’s hard to understand from the outside how truly big this place is, how global it is, and how relevant it is.”
The five-time Emmy winner added chairman, WarnerMedia News and Sports to his title in 2019. On his watch, CNN now reaches more users than any other digital news and information outlet in the world, it says. “The role of television news is to tell great stories and inform the public,” he said. “And for us, it’s to hold those in power accountable. We take that very seriously.”