Lester Holt is about to discuss hard news with a softer touch.
The “NBC Nightly News” anchor will lead an experimental version of NBC’s flagship newscast aimed specifically at children and teens. The first edition of “Nightly News Kids Edition” streams this evening on YouTube and the show, and viewed as a test within NBC News, is likely to appear at least twice per week and potentially with greater frequency.
“Kids are no different than the rest of us. They’re a little scared and they want answers,” says Holt. “But they also want to be empowered and so we wanted to put together a broadcast that would inform and also provide inspiring stories of what other young people are doing around the country.”
With the venture, NBC News takes a step on what has often been a tricky path. Kids represent the next generation of news aficionados, but their ability to navigate their way through troubling headlines, complex stories and the hundreds of bits and pieces of information littered across digital media needs to be honed. The new kids’ edition of “Nightly News” is aimed at kids between 6 and 16.
Other media outlets have tried to talk to kid about the news over the years. Nickelodeon, now part of ViacomCBS, has won acclaim in the past for “Nick News” broadcasts led by well-regarded anchor Linda Ellerbee. Between 1992 and 2015, the kids’ outlet produced more than 150 episodes and tackled issues ranging from global warming to hate crimes and sexual harassment. Nickelodeon recently released an hour-long discussion of issues related to the coronavirus pandemic hosted remotely by Kristen Bell. CBS News between 1971 and 1986 featured two-minute-long “In The News” segments for kids during Saturday-morning cartoons.
In the first episode of the new kids’ “Nightly,” Holt has cast aside the jacket-and-tie demeanor reserved for the more traditional version of the show.Instead, he talks to his younger viewers from his home office dressed in a dark green hoodie, with bookshelf and two bass guitars visible in the background. In opening remarks, he tells the audience that “we know these are scary times, and there’s a lot to take in and understand,” then reminds them that information, and knowing what’s factual and what’s not, can help remove some uncertainty about the world around them. He also asks if they’ve been doing their homework.
A young child reads the intro to the show. It belongs to the director’s daughter, and represents a bid to give younger viewers something that sounds inviting while the musical strains familiar to regular “Nightly News” viewers play in the background.
During the initial broadcast, Holt helps answer kids’ questions about the pandemic with Dr. John Torres, an NBC News medical correspondent, with several children registering queries via video. Kate Snow talks to an education expert about remote learning tips. And Holt profiles a 16-year-old pilot in training who has been flying supplies like face masks and hand sanitizers to hospitals across Virginia.
“As a newsman and a father, I got used to explaining to my children difficult events I was covering, whether it was the famine in Somalia, the Gulf War, or 9/11,” says Holt. “I suppose this program is in some ways an extension of that.”
NBC News has in recent years worked to get its stories on to a variety of emerging digital platforms embraced by younger consumers. The NBCUniversal news unit has developed programs for Snapchat and Quibi and has launched “NBC News Now,” a live-streaming news outlet that offers programming distinct from news programs on NBC or MSNBC.
The idea for the kids’ edition came from a senior producer on “NBC Nightly News” who was mindful of the current environment and who figured kids might like to hear more about the pandemic, home-schooling and more. NBC News has worked built ancillary franchises around some of its mainstay brands, including “Nightly Films,” a series of longform reports available online, and a film festival devoted to documentaries associated with “Meet The Press.”