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Lester Holt Calls Modern Journalism a 'High Calling' as He Takes 'Nightly News' on the Road to Florida

As Holt prepares to anchor live from the political hotbed of Florida this week — and celebrates leading NBC's evening newscast into its 75th year — he reflects on what it takes to be a modern journalist

Christopher Dilts/NBC
Christopher Dilts/NBC

As the anchor of NBC Nightly News, a time-tested evening newscast celebrating its 75th anniversary this spring, Lester Holt is more than comfortable taking his job on the road.

In recent months, he's anchored the show from parts of the world that have played a large role in the national political conversation, from Ukraine to Uvalde. This week, Holt takes the evening newscast — which has existed in various forms since 1948 — on the road for in-depth reporting from Florida.

Holt will anchor NBC Nightly News live from two different cities on Monday and Tuesday. The series will provide on-the-ground coverage on everything from natural disaster recovery to the cultural and political forces shaping the state and, in turn, the nation.

"If you watch a national newscast on any given day, you read or hear about Florida," Holt tells PEOPLE. "It continues to be in the news for various reasons, including Hurricane Ian recovery and also politics." Holt also notes that many people around the U.S. are likely to know someone moving to the Sunshine State, which has seen a significant increase in migration in recent years.

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NBC News Lester Holt reporting in Florida for 'NBC Nightly News'
NBC News Lester Holt reporting in Florida for 'NBC Nightly News'

Of course, there's also the spotlight on the state due to its controversial governor, Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a bid for the presidency against fellow Florida resident Donald Trump as early as this week.

"It's an important time to drill down at what Florida is," Holt says, adding: "You can't visit Florida without touching on the political environment [and the fact that] they have a governor who may soon become a presidential candidate."

Nightly News' traveling broadcast will have Holt anchoring from Fort Myers Beach on Monday, May 22, then traveling to Miami to report and anchor the Tuesday, May 23, show.

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Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Lester Holt
Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Lester Holt

Now 64 years old and a more-than 40-year veteran in his industry, Holt cut his teeth in the news business in a decidedly unorthodox way: as a reporter for a country radio station.

"One of the early jobs I had in this business was working for a country western radio station," he says with a laugh. "They put me in a Jeep Cherokee outfitted with police scanners and I would chase the news. That was the moment that I really discovered the love of breaking news."

Holt has been a fixture on television since, moving from New York City to Los Angeles to Chicago before ultimately finding his home at NBC News. In 2007, he was named anchor of the weekend edition of NBC Nightly News and succeeded Brian Williams as permanent anchor of the weekday edition in 2015, continuing to lead the broadcast as the network celebrates 75 years of hosting an evening newscast.

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NBC News
NBC News

The news business, one could argue, is so ingrained in Holt that he's passed the talent on.

His oldest son, Stefan, works as an anchor at NBC Chicago, where he previews the day's episode of NBC Nightly News with his dad every weekday on air.

"We have a live interaction where we speak to preview what's on Nightly News," Holt tells PEOPLE. "And sometimes right before that or right after, I'll ping him with a quick text saying, 'Love the story you did before my segment,' or 'Love that suit, man.'"

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Holt's other son, Cameron, works in finance, and is understandably also keyed in to current events. "We exchange messages frequently about anything that's breaking, or the headlines of the day," Holt says.

Despite his love for the news, Holt acknowledges that the landscape is changing, adding that he still feels journalism is "a high calling."

"That is something that was told to me many, many years ago," he says. "Yes we have been through some rough moments ... But there's a reason millions of people turn on our broadcast every night. They believe in the commitment of truth that has stood the test of time."

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Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair Lester Holt
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair Lester Holt

For Holt, standing the test of time as a news anchor has come down to tenacity, vigor and, as he admits, learning from others — something he hoped to pay forward on Friday when he delivered an inspirational commencement address at Villanova University. "I didn't finish my college education," Holt says. "I left to pursue a big job in radio and of course things worked out for me — but that's because I found good mentors. It's important to have people who believe in you and walk you through your mistakes."

But the news industry is different now, Holt says, and mistakes are harder to get away with for young journalists.

"When I was coming up, people might watch and see me make a mistake, but it would generally be forgotten in a day or two," Holt says. "Now, of course, you risk getting mocked on social media and it becomes amplified in a different way. It's a more difficult environment and on that level mentorship is even more important now."

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As important as finding support is, it's equally important to simply love the job. Which, after all these years, Holt still does.

"I love the exhilaration of covering breaking news," he says. "There are times I'll be on a story and I still hear that giddy kid inside that says, 'Can you believe you're doing this, man?' If I ever lose that feeling, that's when it's time to hang this up."

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