By Mallory Sherwood, Managing Editor
Lester Holt, MSNBC anchor, has traveled to Somalia, Iraq, New Orleans and Galveston. He recently has interviewed such celebrities as Jennifer Anniston and Peter, Paul and Mary. But Thursday he arrived in Abilene to speak to more than 450 people about his faith in the media industry.
Holt, the third guest in the Centennial Speaker Series, had to postpone his original speaking engagement scheduled for Sept. 22 after he was delayed in Galveston while covering Hurricane Rita.
Despite the two-month delay, Jennifer Ellison, Centennial activities coordinator, said tickets were sold out, and more attended Thursday than were expected in September for the reception that began at 6 p.m. and dinner that followed in the Teague Special Events Center.
He spoke about difficult questions people don’t want to ask, why his Christian viewpoint of the world is important, and how religion affects every part of society.
“We have always been surrounded by people of faith and religion in our society,” Holt said. “Journalists can’t ignore it anymore. You look at everything from abortion, social issues, gay marriage, the debate in the Catholic Church and gay rights. Everywhere you look, religion plays in the fabric of our lives.”
Holt, a member of Manhattan Church of Christ and reporter for 26 years, said he, like most people, has difficulty juggling faith, family and his job. He said his life is often dictated by the next story that arises.
Holt said religion is often a difficult topic to cover, but he said someone has to open the dialogue.
“Religion has always been a difficult thing for journalists to cover because we are afraid to offend anyone,” Holt said. “We are finally feeling free to embrace these stories. Our job is to break down barriers and help people understand what people believe, why they believe, and why they act the way they do.”
Although Holt is known for his Christian beliefs in the media industry, a predominately secular field, he doesn’t view it as a challenge.
“I don’t look at it as a challenge,” he said. “I believe a reporter should be compassionate, should have respect for those he covers, and this is compatible with this field. These are all values that I’ve always embraced very easily.”
He also said his job has reminded him of important ideals in life.
“I see reporting as a very humbling job,” Holt said. “I see people at all facets of their lives, at their highs and lows, when people are rich and poor.
“When you see people who seem to have lost everything, yet have everything, it is a very faith-affirming thing. I see these people and the material things around us and realize that ultimately, none of this matters.”
Dr. Cheryl Bacon, chair of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department, presented Holt with the Lamp award, a special award given occasionally to people who affect the media world with their lives as Christians.
“I knew Lester was the person to receive this award as soon as I heard he was coming to the campus,” Bacon said. “You have done great things as a Christian working in mass media. You have truly been light and truth to society.”