By Rick Coates
Broadcast journalist and author Tom Brokaw needs little introduction.
For 28 years Brokaw found his way into our living rooms via his work
as Today Show host (1976-1982) and then as anchor of the NBC Nightly
News from 1982 2004. Since retiring from his anchor position Brokaw
has found his way to our bookshelves with his 2005 bestseller The
Greatest Generation Speaks followed by his 2008 bestseller, Boom!
Talking About The Sixties.
Brokaw will make three appearances in Traverse City this Wednesday as
part of the Traverse City National Writers Series. His evening
presentation at the City Opera House sold out a few days after tickets
went on sale. Brokaw will speak to high school students from
throughout the region Wednesday afternoon, but this session is closed
to the general public.
Prior to his evening presentation, Brokaw will join 100 guests for
dinner at Bowers Harbor Inn on the Old Mission Peninsula. The $250 per
person dinner ($175 is tax deductable) will go to the new scholarship
program for area high school writing students. Brokaw will introduce
the new scholarship program while visiting town. The scholarships will
be granted through the National Writer Series co-founded by New York
Times best selling author Doug Stanton, his wife Anne Stanton
(Northern Express) and attorney Grant Parsons.
Brokaw continues his work as a broadcast journalist by remaining on
special assignment with NBC. When the very popular Meet The Press host
Tim Russert suddenly passed away in 2008, Brokaw was called upon to
replace him and help transition in current host David Gregory.
Brokaw graduated from the University of South Dakota with a degree in
political science in 1962. He started as a radio reporter in college,
and after graduating he found work as the editor of a morning news
program in Omaha, Nebraska. He also served as a news anchor and editor
in Atlanta, Georgia, before becoming a KNBC late-night presenter in
Los Angeles (1965-73). He would join NBC as their Washington D.C.
correspondent in 1973 covering the Watergate scandal and in 1976 he
started co-hosting the Today Show with Jane Pauley.
In 1982, along with Roger Mudd, he would take over the Nightly News
anchor spot from retiring David Brinkley. Brokaw would take over sole
spot of anchoring the nightly news in 1983, where he remained until
retiring in 2004. He had planned to retire in 2001, but the 9/11
tragedy postponed that as he agreed to stay on to cover the aftermath
of the terrorist attacks.
In his retirement, Brokaw spends time writing books and giving of his
time to assist many others, including judging journalism competitions.
He is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys fly-fishing. He lives in Montana
with his wife of 48 years; they have three daughters.
Brokaw took time to call from Montana and chat about his thoughts on
The Greatest Generation, the 60s, and journalism today, as well as
the up-and-coming generation.
Northern Express: How do you see the state of journalism today and its
future? What advice do you give to students looking to pursue a career
Brokaw: I am kind of two minds. I just judged a number of journalistic
competitions. I am very impressed with the quality of work that is
being done in television, print media, radio and online. I am very
impressed with the investigative work, long essays and feature writing
that I have been seeing from all over the country, especially from
At the same time I am completely vexed by how we solve the media
business model. We allowed the canard to get out there that
information is free. It is not free, it costs money to produce
newspapers, television and radio. People ought to pay for that
information because it is important in their lives. There is this
notion that you just get information out of thin air somehow.
So I am watching with great interests these efforts to keep journalism
front and center with the new iPad or Kindle to get your newspaper.
There are some enterprising people working on this and I hope we get
this new model solved before too long.
NE: In your research for Boom, what similarities, if any, did you find
between the 60s generation and The Greatest Generation?
Brokaw: They did occupy two distinctively different times. The
Greatest Generation came of age when everything was about deprivation
and sacrifice during the Great Depression. Then they were asked to go
off and fight the good war. There was no ambivalence about getting
involved in that war.
The 60s generation came of age in boom times, when there was a lot
of money around. In fact, many of them have said to me that money
enabled me to go off and pursue what I was interested in at any time
because my parents were making good money or I could get a good job or
Of course, then there was the war and certainly the Vietnam War
defined their generation as World War II did the previous generation.
Vietnam bitterly divided the country because the objects were not
nearly as clear. The reason for us getting involved could be debated
and was debated across this country. So they grew up, and I suppose
the best way to put it, is with different influences being imprinted
onto their generation.
NE: Okay, a follow to that as you look at todays generation, what is
your assessment of the under-40 generation? What do you see as their
Brokaw: I am very impressed with this generation. I am going to be
interested in seeing how this economic downturn affects them. Whether
they learn something about proportion, authenticity, and planning
versus throwing money at whatever comes their way and if they change
their motto from this is what I want versus this is what I need as a
result of this economy they are faced with.
I just got back from Ole Miss where I was a guest lecturer for a few
days and I spent a fair amount of time with young people, and I find
they are serious, because they have to be. The competition is much
keener than it was when I was growing up for the good jobs. This
generation has seen the reality of what happens when the economy goes
off the cliff, as their own parents may have lost a house or a job, or
are being faced with uncertainty in their retirement years. So this
generation is going through their own trial by fire, so we will see
how they emerge.
NE: During World War II the country emerged with an economic
turnaround. We are not seeing that with the wars of today. Your
Brokaw: During World War II everyone was asked to make sacrifices on
the home front to help pay for the war. Beginning with Vietnam and
through Afghanistan and Iraq, no administration has said to the
country we have to make some real sacrifices, we have to raise taxes
or go without some things.
During World War II that culture of sacrifice helped unite everybody
and we became a whole country, in many ways more than the sum of our
parts. Now, as I remind audiences as I go around the country, if you
choose not to volunteer for the armed forces or your son or daughter
chose not to volunteer, you can be completely oblivious to the
sacrifices being made by your fellow citizens. I do not think that is
healthy for our society.
NE: Your host is author and writer Doug Stanton; your thoughts on his
books and writing?
Brokaw: He is a very talented writer and a good friend of mine. We
share a lot of the same values. Both of his books are phenomenal and
he is a wonderful American journalist.
NE: What will you speak about during your visit?
Brokaw: It will be about a reality check, what a new generation has to
think about and where they may be going. I am going to talk about how
I came to write about the 60s as well as The Greatest Generation. I
hope I dont put anybody to sleep.
NE: What projects are you working on for NBC right now?
Brokaw: I would prefer not to say.
NE: What about your next book?
Brokaw: I am writing another book, but my answer is the same. I prefer
not to discuss projects I am working on in case they do not work out
or in case someone else says that is a good idea, I should do that.
NE: Okay, are you able to answer how the fly-fishing is in Montana?
Brokaw: Yes, I can answer that. In fact when I get back from Traverse
City I will be going. It is great out here, it is one of the reasons I
retired so I could fly-fish more. In a month I am taking a vacation to
do some tarpon fishing.
Tom Brokaw will appear with Rick Coates on the Omelette & Finster
Morning Show on Wednesday during the 8 am hour on KLT 97.5 and 98.9.
He will discuss the greatest stories he covered, a special visit to
the White House, his friendships with David Letterman and Tim Russert.