Brian Williams: 'On Air, We Represent NBC--the Name, the Company, the Owners'

By Penny Starr | February 9, 2015 | 2:23 PM EST

NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – In a Q and A with journalism students at Elon University on April 8, 2011, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said two employees at the network are responsible for vetting everything that is written and reported so that he can be “sure about what I’m about to say.”

“I want to be sure about what I’m about to say in front of this audience,” Williams said when asked by a student the number one take away he could share with the future journalists. “The standards we have to follow; the steps we go through to cleanse and confirm to the best of our ability every word we use--decidedly Old School MSM. And, yet, when we go on the air we represent NBC--the name, the company, our owners. There’s a lot riding on it.”

Williams also said that he is “astounded” that other journalists who write about him don’t always make the effort to see if what they are reporting is true.

“I’m always astounded on the rare occasions where I’m the subject of any kind of reporting how infrequently anyone bothers to write me an email or pick up the phone and ask me, just basically, is this true?” Williams said.

At the 2011 event, a student asked Williams: “As a graduating senior, someone who considered himself a budding journalist … wondering what the number one thing you think it would be for us to take away as people who want to practice journalism as we get out in the real world and try to cover stories and do what you do?”

“Just that there’s a right way, and we have two people on our payroll who do nothing but watch the words that we write all day,” Williams said. “We have a senior vice president and his assistant and they – when I finish writing something for Nightly News, it goes into the computer file that can be viewed by anybody in our news division.

“I will often get a call from our Washington bureau, from our L.A. bureau, saying ‘We sure we want to say this,’ or ‘I happen to know we need to update this number.’ We do that so that everybody can see it,” he said.

“I want to be sure of what I’m about to say in front of this audience,” Williams said. “The standards we have to follow; the steps we go through to cleanse and confirm to the best of our ability – every word we use – decidedly Old School MSM – and yet when we go on the air we represent NBC--the name, the company, our owners. There’s a lot riding on it.

“The standard falls off a cliff for someone who’s just writing for the Web,” Williams said. “We’re still sorting it out legally in society, and it’s a tough one, but it has to do with imprimatur, and a lot of it has to do with our standards.

“We’ll keep at it,” Williams said. “We’re not going to change.

“I would say the lesson is, there is a way to write, there is a way to cover a story that is going to be the dividing line – it’s going to set you apart for the rest of your career.

“We joke in our newsroom that we among the older folks are classically trained,” Williams said. “And if you’ve been taught how to make your calls, make your rounds, do your reporting, call for confirmation.

“I’m always astounded on the rare occasions where I’m the subject of any kind of reporting how infrequently anyone bothers to write me an email or pick up the phone and ask me, just basically, is this true?” Williams said. “Very simple.

“And I may comment, I may not, but that’s part of the set of rules taught at this school and others,” Williams said.

Williams, who is national chairman of Elon University’s School of Communications National Advisory Board, was also the commencement speaker for the Class of 2013, the year his son Douglas graduated from the college.

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