updated 12/13/2011 AT 1:20 PM ET
•originally published 12/15/2011 AT 8:00 AM ET
Katie Couric says that 2011 was a year of “revolutions, disillusionment, disappointment, frustration, despair, courage and hope.”
Couric will host the ABC two-hour special “The Year,” in collaboration with PEOPLE, airing on Dec. 15 at 9 p.m.
But first, she looked back on the year with PEOPLE.
What were some of the most memorable news moments of 2011?
“The people protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. It was amazing to watch the revolution unfold and to see the people demanding a change of power following years of repression. Of course, there were times when it was quite frightening, like the day the camels and horses came charging into the square and chaos and violence ensued. But it was a testament to the power of the people and the growing power of social media.
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan produced images I will never forget and gave us a crash course in the potential dangers of nuclear power. The ruthless tornadoes in Joplin gave us some profiles in courage. This year we were also introduced to SEAL Team 6 who masterfully orchestrated and carried out the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist.
The Republican debates showed us democracy at work, warts and all. The story of Gabby Giffords was extraordinary. To see her walk onto the floor of the House to cast her vote on the debt ceiling gave me chills. She is so remarkable.
Meanwhile, the royal wedding was a beautiful and happy respite from the tragedies of the year.
Which celebrity newsmakers stood out the most in 2011?
I got a chance to meet Lady Gaga who is as brilliant at creating buzz as she is at creating music. Charlie Sheen was both sad and fascinating. I loved watching the renaissance of both J. Lo and Steven Tyler on American Idol, which proved the power of second acts. And I fell in love with J.R. Martinez, whose courage on the battlefield and on the dance floor was so inspiring.
Did any stories from 2011 shock you?
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s affair really threw me. From the outside, he and Maria seemed to have such a solid marriage. Anthony Weiner’s Tweets exposed an age-old story in a new and unforgiving medium. I must say, the Republican field and its volatility surprised me as well. It seems as if every candidate has had his or her 15 minutes of fame. I was surprised how long Moammar Ghadafi was able to hold onto power.
Which newsmaker had the most impact on 2011, and on you?
I think Steve Jobs, in life and posthumously, has been one of the most influential figures in America. Many of us are reminded of his creative genius every day.
For PEOPLE’s annual roundup of all the hot stars, weddings, splits, babies and news of the year, pick up the special year-end double issue, on newsstands now