Award-winning NBC Nightly News and Dateline anchor Lester Holt came to speak to around 300 students, faculty and staff of Montclair State’s School of Communication and Media (SCM), where he was honored with the 2016 Allen B. Dumont Broadcaster of the Year Award.
This year, Holt moderated the most watched presidential debate in U.S. history. He received widespread praise and criticism for his performance during the debate.
“I knew taking that stage that I would make a lot of enemies that night,” Holt said.
During his visit, Holt first appeared on Montclair State’s television show “Carpe Diem,” then was a special guest for the SCM Colloquium Series. In both, Professor Marc Rosenweig interviewed him on a range of topics, including the debate, his personal experiences, Trump, fake news and what can help students succeed in journalism.
With president-elect Trump soon to take office, “things could get tense” between the media and him, Holt said, adding that it is no secret that part of Trump’s campaign platform was distrust and aggression towards the media. Holt, who has met Trump on several occasions noted that, especially now, there is a need for a strong press.
One of the criticisms of Holt from the first presidential debate was that he allowed the candidates to go over time without stopping them.
“I laid out for a while on purpose to let them talk,” he said, explaining that he wanted to give the country a chance to really hear out both candidates. During the mock debate NBC held in preparation for that night, Holt said that some things that happened almost exactly as they did in the real debate.
Though many criticize the mainstream media, calling it biased and not credible, Holt views the news sources as vital.
“Network news will continue to be a vital voice,” he said, “especially for overseas news.”
A college dropout, Holt said he never even took a journalism course. Starting at a young age, he would practice presenting the news and DJing with a newspaper, tape recorder and recorder player.
After dropping out of college, Holt went to work for a radio station and started his career in the news industry. He stressed the importance of having mentors, crediting much of his own success to having had different people help him throughout his career. He also addressed some of the major. difficulties of his career.
“What we do is hard on your personal life sometimes,” said Holt.
Just this past weekend Holt had plans to travel, but those plans were cancelled when he was put on assignment to cover a story—something which happens often.
“The event was a large step I personally needed to take as a fresh and new Journalism student here at MSU,” said Frankie Perez, a sophomore journalism major. “After hearing Lester Holt speak about a small fraction of the accomplishments and hardships he has been through to be such a revered reporter, I believe I can make it where I want to go as well. I left the panel believing I can be a News Anchor if I have the perseverance Lester Holt had while he was on his way to his career.”
Abigail Brader, a junior communications major, said the event was especially helpful for students like her considering a career in journalism.
“I took away some new insights relating to the job from someone with a lot of professional experience,” Brader said. “The advice and information he gave us will be really helpful as we move forward into the industry.”
Holt’s advice to students was that, to do well in the field of journalism, you must have a multitude of skills.
“You’ve gotta be able to do everything,” said Holt. “Be the swiss army knife of the newsroom.”