NBC Nightly News’ Williams welcomes student journalists to media field, answers questions

Brian Williams addressed an audience of communications students in Whitley auditorium Friday afternoon. Photo by Will Anderson.

Brian Williams, managing editor and anchor of NBC Nightly News, led a Question and Answer session for a packed room of Elon University students at 11 a.m. April 8 in Whitley Auditorium.

“If you chose our profession at career day, you are less likely to make it,” Williams said. “If it’s all you ever wanted to do? Welcome.”

Williams welcomed students to the field of media as long as they were willing to work. People who want it, not people who feel they are entitled to a position are the ones who are going to succeed in the media field, according to Williams.

“If this is your dream, you have to really want it,” Williams said. “That will drive you forward. Keep pushing. If you’ve got a fire in you, if you can think of nothing else then you’ll get there.”

Williams attended Brookdale Community College, George Washington University and The Catholic University of America, but he did not graduate from college. He said that the people in the room who were on the track to graduate from college were already ahead of him.

“If you’re here, if you’re at this institution, you’re already so far ahead,” Williams said. “If you’re having a bad day, reflect on that.”

Williams planned on being a major network anchor while he worked several different jobs including a firefighter, a bus boy at the Pancake House and a salesperson at Sears.

“What I did have was this incredible dream that I couldn’t share with anybody,” Williams said. “I still can’t believe I’m in this job. I grew up watching Walter Cronkite in a perfectly ordinary middle class family.”

The media climate is very different than the one Williams experienced growing up where his family would sit and watch Cronkite on the television and they could tell that their neighbors were also watching Cronkite because of the light and shadows from the television reflecting on the curtains.

“Now in a family of four, no one’s watching the same thing,” Williams said. “The collective viewing experience was part of America. We’d say ‘Carson’s monologue, he killed it.’ We would have all seen it.”

Williams asked how many people in the audience had followers on twitter. A large number of hands in Whitley were raised and Williams said that all of those people were media, even welcoming them into the industry.

The many people on twitter and other social media sources lead to more news sources but also a more divided audience, according to Williams.

“It’s all new,” Williams said. “Its all brand new. What did we used to do with the time we now spend clicking send. Were we better? Can we still tackle World War II type challenges?”

When there are cross-currents NBC tries to acknowledge them, according to Williams. Two examples of this cross-current are the coverage of General Electric, a company that used to be the majority owner of NBC, and the coverage of Donald Trump who has a television show on the same network.

Williams said NBC felt they couldn’t match the reporting of New York Times about taxes paid by GE so they delayed for a week to develop a better story.

“You never want to get a story wrong,” Williams said. “It’s a horrible feeling.”

Williams cited a strong sense of curiosity, street smarts and accuracy as things that aspiring journalists need.

“If this is your dream, you have to really want it,” Williams said. “That will drive you forward. Keep pushing. If you’ve got a fire in you, if you can think of nothing else then you’ll get there.”

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