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Q&A WITH TOM BROKAW : 'The User-Friendly Anchor'

September 09, 1993|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK Tom Brokaw has traveled a long way from his hometown of Yankton, S.D. The former KNBC-TV Channel 4 reporter in Los Angeles and NBC White House correspondent is celebrating his 10th anniversary as anchor of "NBC Nightly News" this week--a job that has taken him around the world covering major news events.

Brokaw, who also began hosting the prime-time newsmagazine "Now" this summer, recently completed negotiations with NBC to renew his contract for another three years. While he said that he enjoys his job and is pleased with the improved morale today at NBC News, those three years as anchor could be his last. *

Question: I understand that you are about to sign a new three-year contract with NBC. Why three years instead of (the more customary) five years?

Answer: In three years, I will be 56 years old, and I will have been with this company for 30 years. At the end of that time, I will have been the anchor for 13 years. That's a long time in any job. I thought that in three years, I'm going to want to take stock of my life. This has nothing to do with NBC or any unhappiness here. It just seems to me to be a sensible thing to do.

*

Q: There has been speculation that you may want to run for the U.S. Senate. Are you interested in doing that?

A: No, I am not interested in running for the Senate. I'm not interested in running for public office. I think it's an honorable calling, but I want more of a private life, not more of a public life. I like to write, for example, and I don't have much time to do that. This doesn't mean I want to give up television. It may mean that I will want to give up daily television.

*

Q: Most people would think that someone in your job would want to go on forever. What's the difficulty in being an anchor today? Is it being chained to the desk?

A: No, it's not being chained to the desk because we do get out a lot. I love going to Tokyo or wherever the action happens to be. It's just that when you get there and get immersed in an interesting story, it's time to break off, run back and get into harness for the evening news. When I went to Nepal this summer on vacation, I spent every day listening to the BBC three times a day to make sure that I didn't have to call in a helicopter to pluck me off of the Himalayas and fly me to Katmandu so that I could get out and cover a story. I don't want to live like that for the rest of my life.

I've covered Watergate, I've covered wars, I've interviewed Gorbachev, I was there when the Berlin Wall came down. This is a great, great job. It's just a question of how long do you want to do it.

*

Q: What has been the biggest change in TV news in the past 10 years?

A: The biggest change is that there's more of it on the air. Second, there's more competition. Third, technology makes it possible to get on the air from almost anywhere at any time. The fourth big change is the financial pressures. And they all play against each other. Because the competition is greater and because the overall network TV business is not what it once was, we have to be more resourceful now and we have to work harder at story selection.

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Q: The evening newscasts on the broadcast networks used to be called "the nightly national seance" where the nation gathered to get its news. Do you think the evening newscasts could ever again have the kind of impact on the nation that they had in the past?

A: No, I don't, just as I don't think the Big Three auto makers are going to have the same impact as before. But I do think that, for the foreseeable future, on big stories, on a sustained basis, the country still turns to the networks.

*

Q: One night recently on "Nightly News," you led with Bosnia; another night, it was (the allegations of child-abuse against) Michael Jackson. You recently had a story about an Atlanta judge who was accused of murdering his wife and running a drug-laundering operation; the footage included blood on a car. It seems as if we're seeing more blood and more intimate details of people's lives in news coverage. Do you think the tabloid publications are driving the agenda of the mainstream media?

A: No, I don't, although I do think it's a more competitive environment today. Michael Jackson was a big story of a major cultural figure, big enough to make the front pages of the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. I don't think we covered it in a titillating way. When the most important story of the day was Bosnia, we led with that. Another day recently, the major story was China trade agreements.

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