Lester Holt Takes Over The 'Nightly News' As The First Black Sole Anchor Of The Evening News & It's About Time
On Thursday, NBC announced that Lester Holt will be permanently anchoring NBC Nightly News. Upon Brian Williams' suspension in February, Holt filled in, becoming the first African-American sole anchor of a major broadcast network's evening news program. Ask your parents and grandparents, who grew up in an era in which the nightly news was both a popular and indispensable resource, and they will tell you from whom they learned about major news events. Walter Cronkite has left a positive and lasting legacy, from announcing the assassination of President Kennedy, to reporting on location, shedding light on the darkness of the Vietnam War. The familiar face Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News provided comfort and consistency during the immediate events from 9/11. The anchor was the face previous generations looked to for vital information and to help make sense of the world we live in. That a person of color is now officially in the evening news anchor's chair is big news for the network.
Holt has proven to be a indispensable resource for NBC, famously stepping up to report, for 12 hours without a break, the events of 9/11 as they unfolded. According to the New York Times , people around the network began calling him "Iron Pants" for his willingness to work nonstop. He was one of the lead anchors for MSNBC in 2003, covering the beginning of the Iraq War, and has reported on location in Afghanistan and from the Olympics. Holt has the ability to restore the the integrity that NBC Nightly News once held, while breathing new life into a dwindling institution.
The New York Times says of Holt, "he is not a regular on the entertainment circuit or viewed as a crossover star, as Mr. Williams was. He views himself, said those close to him at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters, more as a journalistic Swiss army knife, willing and able to take any assignment." In February, the Times described Holt as a source of "calm after the Brian Williams storm," representing the principles of journalism that Williams had been exposed to lack throughout the scandal he has been mired in.
His status as the first African-American anchor is not only significant symbolically, but also statistically. Following Williams' forced departure in February, ratings for NBC Nightly News remained steady under Holt. Deadline reported in May that Nightly News was the most popular newscast, with 7.726 million viewers, while he reported the events in Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray. He gained more viewers to the program when he first ascended to the chair, the ratings going up by 7 percent, according to EW, showing the public's interest in him personally.
President of the National Association of Black Journalists, Bob Butler expressed excitement over Holt back in February, saying, "I have known Lester for most of my professional career. He is a solid professional with tremendous skills. I am very pleased that Lester is getting this promotion." Michael H. Cottman wrote at Black America Web that Holt is worthy of the position. "What Holt brings to NBC News is stability, honor and truthfulness, something that Williams, despite his 22 year career, fell short of." Black visibility in the news media is a pressing issue, he explains: "CNN, for example, has withdrawn its support from the National Association of Black Journalists’ 2015 Convention and Career Fair after the group criticized the network for the lack of diversity among its staff members. [At this time,] Holt’s rise to the anchor desk is significant."
Charles D. Ellison points out over at The Root that "a 2013 UCLA study discovered that 'median household ratings were highest among those programs with casts that were '31 to 40 percent minority.' It proves that when most people turn their televisions on, they want to see a world that looks something like the one they live in."
Television should not only reflect the changing demographics of America, but also lead the charge in promoting talented people of color and giving their voices a platform. Cronkite was revered as "the most trusted man in America," a status that news anchors have aspired to since. It is about time that a person of color becomes "the most trusted" man, or woman, in America.
Image: Getty Images