NBC Nightly News Anchor Lester Holt and former New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. were in St. Petersburg on Saturday, receiving awards for their decades-long careers in journalism.
Holt, who also hosts the nightly news and Dateline NBC, was given the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at the Poynter Institute's annual Bowtie Ball Fundraiser. The journalism non-profit also owns the Tampa Bay Times.
Holt cut his teeth at local CBS stations for more than two decades and said he is concerned about the precarious financial situation that many local news organizations find themselves in, particularly newspapers. But he said as many local news organizations struggle to find a sustainable business model, they're also learning to utilize new technologies to reach larger audiences.
"We have figured out that you have to look around the corner, find out the new technology," Holt said. "Viewers are always going to be there, people are always going to crave information, but we have to be where they want to be or where they're going to be."
Holt said that even with new mediums for delivering news, audiences still demand thorough and truthful reporting. That sentiment was echoed by Sulzberger, whose organization has also faced repeated attacks on its credibility by President Donald Trump and other politicians.
Sulzberger, who received Poynter’s Distinguished Service to Journalism Award, says attacks on the press as "fake news" and "the enemy of the people" are undermining the public's trust in journalists.
"But, we've been here before and I really thing we are going to make our way through this," Sulzberger said. "People don't remember how brutal the era of Joe McCarthy was, but at the end, Dwight Eisenhower brought this nation together in a remarkable way...Our job is to make our way through this, and continue to meet the responsibilities we have: to be accurate and be around the world."
Despite the tough political climate for news, the New York Times has added more than a million digital subscribers since 2016.
Holt said he thinks the nation's political divisions may be overstated. He traveled extensively with his show both during and after the 2016 elections and said the media may not be talking enough about the ways in which people come together.
"I always tell people 'It's possible to go out to dinner with friends and not talk about politics,'" he said. "I think a lot of people are doing that."
Being out on the road allowed Holt to see that many people have more immediate concerns in their own communities outside of the latest political play-by-play.
"When we tape the broadcast around the county, what we try to do is tap into 'What are they covering locally? What is the big story here,'" Holt said. "Maybe it's their particular take on the opioid crisis or water issues. It's good for us as national broadcast it's important for us to go understand that not everyone is talking about what was tweeted from the White House today."
That's why Holt says journalists continuing to do what they do — "tell the truth, be hard hitting, don't be afraid" — is the most important asset to the long-term success of news organizations.