Jim Rosenfield (JR): You were in Philly recently doing a story on Strawberry Mansion, about a program that is helping young people get engaged, and get excited about learning. Why did you want to do that story?
Lester Holt (LH): You know I’m always looking for stories that inspire people. People were are tackling the big issues of the day in a micro way. And in this case it was a Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, a guy who grew up there, and still lives there, he had the ability, he had this former bar that his mother left him. She said do something great, and he did something great. He started an after school program not only getting kids off of the street at a critical time of the day, but also a place where they can get help with their homework and be enriched. Those are the kinds of stories that our viewers time and time again tell us they’re craving. People stop me and say Holt thank you, thank you for showing us something other than divisiveness. Thank you for showing something that makes me smile at the end of the newscast. And I’m with them, sometimes I can’t I hide my emotions, we’ll run one of those stories where you see my eyes glisten up, or a big grin on my face, I love it too. You know the news is very heavy.
The great thing about Philadelphia for me, is that we have access, its close by, I can come to a place like this and do a story and still get back to NYC in time for the Nightly News. This is in many ways is a part of my wider community, but there are stories like these happening all over the country, we get people who are seeing an issue and thinking you know what I have the resources, I have the ability to organize people and do something, and that’s why this is such a great story. We walked the streets of Strawberry Mansion, he helped me understand the issues there what the kids face and what I love is after we did that story, I started getting emails and calls from people hey I want to volunteer, I want to help you know we put them in contact, you stand back and you smile you know what, we did something really good today we told a great story, and we call the segment “Inspiring America” and dog-on-it if it didn’t inspire people.
Jacqueline London (JL): You have seen too much flooding, tornadoes, police involved shootings, and you’ve been there. How does that make you feel?
LH: When at a scene of a calamity I always go through this process. I guess it’s a personal process of thinking, ok what if this was me? What if this was family how would I deal with this? How would I want to be treated? Part of our job as reporters is to bring compassion to stories, I think that’s a necessary element of journalism and its very life affirming to me. Its strikes me, sometimes I go do these horrible stories, people have been through hell and yet they are able to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Its very life affirming. I think if it were me I would be curled up in a ball somewhere, but time and time again people show their resilience that’s part of our storytelling, is to look at how people are able to deal with it.
JL: How do you see yourself as an anchor?
LH: I feel like I’m the viewer’s representative. Sometimes I hear that voice in my ear, people yelling, “Come on Lester ask him this” and I ask it because I want to be the representative I’m the guy that has the ability to bring people to the table and get answers. I try to look at the questions that people want answered, I think about the questions I would want answered, it’s not always the high flouting question but the something that really gets to the heart of the matter. I definitely sit there when I’m anchoring and am trying to picture people at home, saying what right are they television at the TV about saying no, ask him that. I think what’s really important is to remember it’s about the viewers. The issues that they want to know about, and the questions they what answered. We have the access, we have the technology so let’s get the answers for them
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JL: We know how important listening is but how important is understanding?
LH: It’s important that we understand so we can appreciate the differences. If I don’t understand where you’re coming from or the issue then were are never going to find any ground. Our job is not to make everyone hold hands and sing kum-ba-ya but it is to help them process information.
JL: Why is going to the story so important?
LH: I always tell people the most satisfying moments of my career have been not sitting behind a desk but it’s out there. So when something huge happens, I get off the set and I have to be there. Even if it’s not on camera, just talking to people in a given situations is such an enrichment and helps to frame the story. We do a lot of talking in this business, but listening is as important because we’ve got to see the story and where people are coming from.
JR: What makes this city so unique?
LH: Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, when you have a city neighborhoods you have of great organic stories of people who were changing those broader issues of the day, they’re changing their blocks or within a two mile radius, this is a place that is rich in those kinds of stories I would except we will be down here a lot.
JR: Do you guys still have a dog?
LH: We were without dogs for a while, but we have a puppy now. A labradoodle back in the fall, 8 months old now, so fun. Because she's a red head we named her Lucy. She’s the best dog I’ve ever had. She's a lover, very affectionate.
JL: One day after your birthday, Happy Birthday! You have big news to announce!
LH: Yeah, I going to be a grandad. My oldest son Stefan and his wife Morgan are expecting their first child in September, I’m more excited than them. I happen to love babies, I really love babies and especially when they are other people’s babies, we are thrilled. I have a lot to teach this kid.
JR: Do we have any names you want to be called?
LH: Yes I want to be known as grand-dude, I think that could stick. But it might be a mouthful for the little one. It’s a boy, so I’ve been getting ultrasound pictures saying to myself, ‘Yes it looks like me!’
JL: Everyone knows your son is an anchor in New York as well, all of your family is right there in NY. You can spoil that baby as frequently as you want
LH: Yeah, Stefan works in the same building as me. All I know is when he was a little boy he used to love to go to the TV station and hang around. Of course he became a TV anchor, so I look forward to bringing my grandson to work… I am proud to be a journalist and I would be thrilled if my grandchild became a journalist.