What I’ve Learned: News Anchor Lester Holt

From a story on esquire.com by Brian Stelter headlined “What I’ve Learned: Lester Holt”:

Lester Holt, 64, is an American broadcast news mainstay. A reporter, international correspondent, and host, he has anchored NBC’s Nightly News since 2015. He’s also a musician and a father. For our Summer 2023 issue, Holt took part in Esquire’s long-running What I’ve Learned interview series, where the subject’s wisdom appears in their own words.

A lady, just a moment ago, stopped me and thanked me, which is kind of cool after what we’ve been through in the media these past few years.

You can’t hammer people for half an hour with nothing but dark, difficult stories. You have to find a balance: Give them something hopeful, give them something to smile about, while making sure we hit the big stories of the day.

Seconds count. While the ending story is on, the producer will say, “Okay, you have fourteen seconds on the back side to say goodbye.” Sometimes I only have three seconds.

I’m one of those people who always has a tune running through his head. Could be country, could be R&B, could be jazz.

Growing up on an Air Force base, you learn to make friends in a way that maybe other kids don’t, because either your father is transferring or someone else is transferring in. So you have this chance to kind of redefine yourself as a kid.

My parents constantly instilled us with a sense of “Of course you can.” That there are no obstacles.

I’ve sat in a living room with a family in Kabul. And I’ve sat in living rooms with families in this country. The values are so much more similar than we sometimes recognize.

I have opinions about everything. It doesn’t matter when I’m anchoring, though.

I was twenty-eight years old, and I was doing a story about the military. I had the opportunity to go up in an F-16 with an Air Force pilot. We went up on a little training mission in the Arizona desert and we’re flying between these canyons. He lets me take the stick and I fly it through a loop. We landed, and I had this almost slight feeling of depression, like I had screwed up my life. I thought, This is what I should have done. But life went a different way.

The hardest job I’ve had is cable-news anchor. I did twenty years of local television and radio, but when I got to MSNBC, I was drinking from a fire hose. Ad-libbing. Shifting topics really quickly. I thought, Man, if I can master this, I can do anything.

Three forces have really shaped where we are as a country: 9/11, Covid, and Donald Trump. Take that any way you want.

I struggled with how many different ways you can say liewithout saying lie. That was an honest-to-God struggle, because it’s not something I would ever feel comfortable saying about someone in a respected position.

Love is about being selfless. Putting someone out front, ahead of you.

Carol and I were married in 1982. People say marriage is tough, and it is, but marriage is also great. It’s really important to have someone who gets you. Who can cut you a little slack sometimes. Who can make you feel good about yourself when maybe you’re not.

Carol and I play Wordle together every night. We wait till nighttime. We get a little kick out of it.

Suddenly, instead of talking with your kids about soccer practice or school projects, you’re talking about politics and sports. I don’t think young parents really appreciate that. You’re not going to be bouncing them on your knee forever.

I don’t mean this in a harsh way, but your bosses aren’t your friend. Your bosses are hopefully friendly, but this is a business like any other business.

Yes, audiences are migrating. How people consume us, that’s going to continue to change. I have no idea how in seventy-five years. Maybe it’ll be little clouds in front of us. But Nightly News will exist.

When I’m jamming with my band, I’m not Lester Holt the journalist, the anchorman. We’re just musicians having fun. Whatever that may be in your life, I think that’s very healthy.

I’m self-taught. As a kid, I bought a bass in a pawn shop, and a couple of books, and I figured it out. I’ve never had a bass lesson in my life.

Sometimes you just want to turn down the volume in life.

I was always one of those people when someone would tell me, “Well, I don’t watch the news,” there was a part of me that was judging them. Like, “Really? How can you not watch the news? Don’t you want to know what is going on?” But I look at the last several years and the kinds of stories we’ve had to cover, and I get the need to sometimes walk away a little bit.

More than ever in my career now, I measure the words. I measure every word.

Brian Stelter is the Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. He is a former anchor of CNN’s Reliable Sources and a former media reporter at The New York Times.

Speak Your Mind