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Tips From Tom Brokaw
Interview by Taylor Warden, London Ball, Ryan Nuckolls, and Caleb Hoferman
Scholastic Student Reporters


Ryan Nuckolls (middle) and Caleb Hoferman interview Tom Brokaw. (Photo by Suzanne Freeman)
Scholastic Kids Press Corps members met with Tom Brokaw. The NBC News anchor was working on his evening broadcast in the NBC work area in Des Moines, Iowa, just before caucus day in January. The legendary newsman was slouched over a laptop computer set up on a folding table. He sat on a metal folding chair, wearing glasses and a look of intense concentration as he worked on his copy for NBC Nightly News. He was due to go on air in about 40 minutes, but took time out to talk to four Scholastic Student Reporters about his job.

Brokaw has anchored NBC Nightly News since 1983. He recently announced he will retire after this election year.

Brokaw has an impressive history of "firsts." He conducted the first exclusive U.S. one-on-one interview with then Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. He was the first American anchor to report on human-rights abuses in Tibet and to conduct an interview with the Dalai Lama.

He began working for NBC News in 1966, reporting from California and anchoring for KNBC, the NBC television station in Los Angeles. He was a White House correspondent, then anchored NBC News's Today. He has covered every presidential election since 1968.

SN: My first question is, are you interested in ever becoming President?
Brokaw: Am I interested in what? Ever becoming President? No, and America is much better off because of that actually (laughing).

SN: What made you decide to become a reporter?
Brokaw: Well, when I was your age—literally—and I was growing up next door in South Dakota, I was really curious about everything that was going on around me. I would come home every night and tell my parents and my brothers everything that had happened in town. And so I think it was just a natural instinct. I think that in society it's really helpful to know what's going on, because then you can figure out how you want to live your own life, and so on. And when we're here (Iowa caucuses), we're finding out what these people who say they want to be our President, say that they will do for us, and we have to examine them then.


SN: What's been the most interesting place you've gone to as a reporter?
Brokaw: You know, it's very hard to just single one out . . . but I think probably Tibet—do you know where that is? It's way up and, now they call it a province of China, but it's a unique Buddhist kingdom. And it's very high—when you land you're already at 14,000 feet, and you go up much higher than that. I have lived in Buddhist monasteries, and I met the Dalai Lama and spent time with him, and all the people that I met along the way were nomadic sheepherders, and they lived in a very primitive fashion. It was so beautiful, and so unique, and I love the outdoors. So I think that was the most interesting place.

SN: Can you give us any interview tips?
Brokaw: You want to ask questions that are very specific, and not just general questions like, "So, how are you feeling?" You know, that's not a very good question, because people will say, "I'm feeling pretty well." What you want to do is, if you're asking Richard Gephardt today, for example, "Here in Iowa, you say that you're against NAFTA and the trade program that we have going in America, what about all those people who go to Wal-Mart and buy cheap shoes from China? Aren't they going be unhappy if shoes become really expensive again?" That kind of question. A question that has a specific point to it.

SN: What's the most interesting Iowa caucus you've been to?
Brokaw: This one. I've been coming since 1976—and there've been some great ones—but we've never had one where four candidates, in the last 24 hours, are just bunched right together—boom. And you know how the caucuses work, it's not just being popular; you have to go out and get your people to actually go to a caucus and fight for you.

SN: Who do you think is going to win?
Brokaw: Well, one of the things a journalist should do is say, "I would rather not comment on that," because then people would look at my coverage and think I had a bias one way or another, so I really don't give my opinion on some of these issues.

SN: But what do you really think?
Brokaw: What do I really think? (laughs) You're going to be okay [as a journalist].


London Ball, Taylor Warden,Ryan Nuckolls, and Caleb Hoferman talk to Tom Brokaw. (Photo by Suzanne Freeman)
SN: Do you have any predictions on how the caucuses will turn out?
Brokaw: One of the things I worry about, and I'm just writing a little something about that right now, the Iowa caucuses have always been very effective because the people have run them. You know, they gather in each other's living rooms, and it's kind of been from the ground up. Now, the stakes are very big, so there's all this money here; and all this organization here, people are pouring in from all over the country. I wouldn't want Iowans to lose control of their own caucus system, where they become pawns.

SN: How can we be better reporters?
BROKAW: It's easy. When you report a story, it's just like telling your best friend something that happened to you, and you tell them in a way that you tell them all the details of it; you tell them quite efficiently. And you tell them in a way that has a real good punch line. You work your way toward the end, like a joke, like a punch line, only you really pay it off. That's what being a reporter's all about.