Lifelong Pursuit of Journalism
Kid Reporter discovers how Lester Holt paid his dues on his way to becoming an NBC News anchor
NBC News' Lester Holt with Kid Reporter Danielle Azzolina after their interview at NBC Studios. (Photo: Suzanne Freeman)
As the weekend anchor of NBC Nightly News and co-anchor of The Today Show Weekend Edition, Lester Holt gets to talk to a lot of really interesting people. So I was surprised to find out that some of his favorite interviews are the ones with ordinary people.
"Those are the interviews that resonate because you walk away thinking, 'Hey, that could've been my mother or my father or brother,'" Mr. Holt told me. "Those are the ones that sometimes mean the most and that tend to linger with us for a long time."
I had the chance to interview Mr. Holt at NBC Studios in New York City. And in this case I was talking to someone very interesting and whose story meant a lot to me!
I'd never had an opportunity to speak with someone who was so successful at something I dream of doing someday. What a great experience for a kid reporter!
When I went into the studio from where Mr. Holt reports, I had major butterflies! I got to sit in his chair behind the desk and look into the cameras that help bring the news to us every day. A man even did my hair and put make-up powder on me. I felt like a professional reporter. A thrill? That's an understatement!
Mr. Holt came in, and we spoke for a little while as things were prepared for our interview. Quickly, my butterflies were gone. I felt comfortable because he was so nice. Then my dream interview started.
Dangers Journalists Face
Mr. Holt was gracious and kind and very interesting!
He has a love of aircraft that started when he was a kid living on a military base while his dad was in the Air Force. His interest and expertise with planes, surprisingly, has helped with his career. In 2000, he reported for MSNBC on the crash of the Concord. That report helped him gain an anchor chair. His expertise in this area also helped when, from London in 2006, he reported on terror threats to British airlines headed for America.
It surprised me to learn about some of the dangerous situations he has been in as a reporter to get a story. When you see a news reporter behind a desk on TV, you don't think about the difficulties and dangers of "on the ground" reporting that they have done to get there. I asked Mr. Holt if he ever had experiences as a reporter that made the hairs on his neck stand up.
"I've had several of those experiences. Most of them involve life-threatening experiences," Mr. Holt said. "I recall the time I was briefly held at gunpoint at a checkpoint in Somalia, a country in eastern Africa that even to this day doesn't have a functioning government." He told me about the warlords that control territories in Somalia. "We began to shoot some pictures of them [warlords], and they didn't like that," he continued. "Suddenly, the AK-47s came out, and [the warlords] began speaking in a language I didn't understand. There were some very tense moments."
Often reporters are in dangerous situations to get a story. I really respect news reporters because of this. They take risks we benefit from. They help us understand what's going on in our world and to try to make sense of it. Mr. Holt said it comes with being a reporter.
"You have to go where the story is to report on it," he told me. "As a journalist, you're essentially running to things that other people are running away from. There's no experience like going down an empty freeway toward a hurricane and then looking in the opposite lane and seeing bumper-to-bumper traffic, people fleeing that scene. Or going to a toxic spill and seeing people go the other way. You talk yourself into thinking you're invincible in order to do that."
I wondered how he felt about reporters being in those situations. He said, "You know, it's not bravado, it's just what we do."
At NBC Studios, there is a memorial for the reporters they've lost when on assignment. Seeing that makes you understand the sacrifices journalists make for us all and how important their work is.
Preparing to Be a Journalist
I realized as I listened to him that he has done a lot in his field to be where he is today. He started thinking about journalism at the age of 12. One thing he did even as a kid to prepare him for the job he loves today was to read a lot. At California State University, he studied government because he knew it would be an important part of his job in journalism. The more he understood government and politics, the better he could report on it.
Hearing about a few of his earlier assignments when he was sent to dangerous places or was in dangerous situations to report from, I realized to be a top reporter on a news show like NBC Nightly News takes a lot of years of hard work.
I learned so much from this interview and experience. Mr. Holt gave me a lot of advice on interviewing and what it takes to be a good reporter. An important thing to remember, he said, is: "There's a saying in journalism and it goes something like this: If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!" That made me laugh!
I also got a feel for what my future could be if I work very, very hard at becoming a journalist. When I told Mr. Holt I was so happy to speak with such a famous reporter, he said with a smile, "I'm not that famous."
Another lesson I learned from Mr. Holt: Even when you're at the top, you can still be humble and very nice.
Watch video of Danielle interviewing Lester Holt on the set of NBC Nightly News!
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Danielle Azzolina is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.