National Press Club

NBC icon Brokaw sees new journalism technology shaping America’s future

November 3, 2011 | By Bill Miller |

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

One of the forces shaping the future of the United States is today’s “extraordinary change in journalism,” retired NBC News legend Tom Brokaw said at a Nov. 3 National Press Club luncheon.

The explosion of new journalistic technology “has created an entirely new universe,” said Brokaw, who anchored “NBC Nightly News” from 1982-2005 and also hosted ‘The Today Show” and “Meet the Press.” His new book is “The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation about America.”

“I find it exceptionally exciting,” he said of journalism's evolution. “There is a richer menu of information out there than there ever has been, and it is available in a keystroke.”

Although the impact of the technology is still “working itself out,” Brokaw said it presents a challenge for journalists to maintain the profession’s integrity. Yet, he said, it also is incumbent upon readers “to develop a personal filter system to become fully informed citizens.”

“Journalism is critical to free people,” he stressed.

Brokaw, a Club member who received Club’s Fourth Estate Award in 2003, criticized today’s reporters and news organizations for their “lemming like culture.”

They have become “somewhat like an echo chamber,” he said, pursuing the same stories and playing “a great game of ‘gotcha.’”

“Where were we on the Cain story?,” he asked, noting that only now have reporters uncovered the sexual harassment charges against Republican presidential nomination contender Herman Cain.

The story has dominated the week’s news. But the accusations were made in the 1990s, when Cain was president of the National Restaurant Association.

Besides the change in journalism, America’s response to two other challenges – improving education and coping with the housing crisis – will help determine the nation’s future, Brokaw said.

Author of the 1998 best-seller “The Greatest Generation,” Brokaw was asked during Q&A to comment on the current generation. Rejecting the popular term for twenty-somethings, “millennials,” he said he preferred to call them “the neo-frugalists,” because many are moving back home.

“They are skeptical of institutions that we have all taken for granted,” said Brokaw, 71.

Brokaw said it was too early to assess the current period in history. More time is needed to gain perspective.

He noted that virtually all experts have underestimated the depth of the housing crisis, systemic unemployment, the “ruthlessness and inefficiency of Wall Street,” and the inter-connectivity of the global economy.

He compared today’s tumultuous political climate to that of 1968, when the nation was embroiled in race riots and the Vietnam War. Unlike today, however, he said that 1968’s economy was relatively stable.

Brokaw predicted that network news, although with a significantly smaller audience than during his anchor days, will survive.

“But the thing we worry about is demographics,” he said. “The audience tends to be older.”

In the future, he said, network news will adopt a “new form” – part of it on air, part of it online and available on tablet computers and handheld devices.

The downsizing of news organizations doesn’t concern him.

“There’s still a lot of firepower out there,” he said. He reminded the audience that it took only two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, "to bring down Nixon. “