On a cloudy Tuesday evening, Montgomery hosted day two of “NBC Nightly News’s” Across America Tour with Lester Holt, in which the nationwide anchor hosts the news in a different state every day of the week.
The city put on a welcome event featuring Alabama State University’s marching band and about 100 spectators to see the news anchor.
While Montgomery is one of the smallest cities to be featured on the Across America Tour, Holt said he and his team went looking for compelling stories.
An NBC official said they were in pursuit of a “well-rounded” group of cities, looking for “local stories with a national impact.”
Holt was attracted to Montgomery because of its choice to embrace and remember its past while moving ahead for the good of the city.
“Montgomery is the birthplace of the civil rights movement, (and) it’s kind of the cradle of the Confederacy, but it’s changing, and so much of the South is changing,” he said. “It’s recognizing its past, but it’s also embracing its future.”
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which honors victims of lynching, also influenced NBC’s decision, especially since Holt discovered a possible ancestor who fell victim to lynching at the “extremely powerful” memorial.
“I thought that was a story worth telling because it really plays to that notion of, you know, this is not a place that is afraid to confront the darker parts of its history, and it is just a tremendous place to profile.”
While many locals and news media attended the event, Booker T. Washington High School brought a group of students in student media, who were able to ask Holt questions after the broadcast.
Morriah Gordon, a junior at BTW and a member of the photography division, was “so excited” to see Holt live.
“This experience is one in a lifetime, and I honestly feel like this will change my life forever, just being the atmosphere of Lester Holt,” said Gordon.
Aylon Gipson, a junior at BTW, produces newscasts and attended J-Day last month.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “We’re just glad to have this opportunity to meet such a person of high stature.”
In a sit-down interview with the Tropolitan, Holt gave a taste of what it is like to be a part of the mainstream news media, including how he felt about the constant barrage of news that comes along with a new age of technology, looking back on his past of working in radio and staying glued to a police scanner and two-way radios in search of news.
“I love breaking news, so I look at this as one big breaking news story,” he said. “Nothing energizes a room more than having a challenge and a deadline.
“When things are going crazy, that’s when you look into yourself and focus. I kind of dig that energy, I guess.”
While the constant news brings a certain energy, especially into a newsroom, Holt stressed the importance of being careful when gathering and observing news.
“At the same time, because things are happening so quickly, we have to use extra care and make sure that we’ve got it locked and solid,” he said. “That’s what we do every day.
“I work with people I will say are the best in the business, and we’ve got each other’s back and work collaboratively to try to put on the best newscast we know how.”
While Holt’s team could set an example for how a newsroom works together, today’s political climate means consumers are more inclined to distrust media, especially larger news corporations.
However, he said NBC’s 70 years of experience on the air speak volumes toward its credibility.
“You can’t just tweet away or insult away those years of trust and integrity that we build with our viewers, so I don’t feel like we are losing anything,” Holt said.
While NBC has decades under its belt, Holt said it is also up to news consumers to think critically about what they read or see, considering “what makes sense.”
“We are getting bombarded by information 90 miles an hour every day, from the minute we get up in the morning to the minute we go to bed,” he said. “I think (critical thinking) is a healthy exercise for all of us.
“Critical thinking is a skill I think has never been more important than right now — to question sources of information, to learn what sources you can trust and not to try and take everything just because you heard it from somewhere.”