Posted September 26, 2014

Temple students pack Tomlinson for Q-and-A with Brian Williams

Ryan S. Brandenberg
'NBC Nightly News' anchor Brian Williams, the 2014 recipient of the School of Media and Communication’s Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award, spent an hour answering questions from Temple University students on Sept. 26.

To make it as a journalist, writing has to be like breathing, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams told a group of Temple students last Friday.

The most watched evening-news anchor in America was at Temple University Sept. 26 to accept the Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award from the School of Media and Communication. But before he attended the 14th annual ceremony in Mitten Hall, Williams spent nearly an hour fielding questions from aspiring journalists in a packed Tomlinson Theater.

The topics ranged from his coverage of terrorism and Edward Snowden, to lighter fare such as his preference for dogs over cats. To students' questions, Williams offered in-depth responses sprinkled with his lightning-quick wit.

“You’ve got to be hyperaware of your surroundings,” Williams, who spent part of his youth in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and part of his early career at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, told students. “Have the power of description. Have the power of structure."

He said he would start writing for that evening’s broadcast from the deck of the USS New Jersey in Camden as soon as he left campus and would continue to tweak his script through the end of the show.

Asked what the most challenging part of his career has been, Williams said it was starting out. He acknowledged the encouragement he received from his mother, who would tell him that he was better than the anchors she watched each night.

Williams spent several minutes on the coverage of terrorism, an issue he believes has “defined this decade.” Through his work covering this global issue, Williams said he has seen some of America’s “very best” lose their lives in the fight against “a value system so foreign to us.

“I would dedicate yourselves to knowledge of it,” Williams told his audience.

The conversation, which was sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, brought its share of laughter, too, including the moment one student asked Williams, well-known as a dog person, to comment on cats.

“Cats are as likely to be on top of the refrigerator when you get home and, maybe seven hours later, decide to look at you,” he said.

But Williams pledged to maintain journalistic integrity on the dogs versus cats issue: “We try not to discriminate against the feline family on the Nightly News.”

The final question of the morning came from journalism major Oliva Johnson, School of Media and Communication, Class of 2018, who first told Williams, “This is a dream come true just to see you.”

Then she asked what his key strength as a journalist is.

Williams took the opportunity to discuss how he’s able to balance his work covering much of the world’s darkness with his family life and sense of humor.

“Being a compartmentalizer really helps,” he said. “I’ve seen thousands of dead people in my career. How else are you going to process that?”

The Lew Klein Awards brings a top-tier media professional to campus each year. Past recipients include Anderson Cooper, Whoopi Goldberg and Matt Lauer.

—Jeff Cronin