With the audiences for network newscasts being nibbled away by new forms of media and authoritative top-down pronouncements giving way to user-generated, decentralized wikimedia, Brian Williams seemed like the perfect person to define the role of nightly news anchor for a new digital era when he succeeded Tom Brokaw at NBC at the end of 2004. He is funny, irreverent, young and has the down-home sensibilities of a NASCAR fan, former volunteer firefighter and college dropout, all of which he is.
As it turned out, Williams, 48, has indeed been the perfect anchor for the new age. That's because he did not try to reinvent the job. He realized there still was, and long will be, a place for a traditional journalist with an appreciation for hard news.
Like his well-loved predecessor, Williams lets his wry humor and good-guy personality subtly shape his on-air persona. His comfort with mainstream Americathose who shop, as he does, at Cabela's hunting and fishing megastoreshelps him understand his audience without a trace of pandering or condescension. The broad array of passions that make him bubble excitedly in personfrom U.S. history to dirt-track stock-car racingsave him from ever seeming aloof and too self-important on air. It's obvious that he deeply cares about his job and about the stories he reports; those of us from New Orleans will ever be grateful for the passion and persistence he brought to the Hurricane Katrina story.
Williams understands the new state of play in the media, and even has a blog of his own. Yet he is traditionalist enough to protect the concept of a national conversation, based on a shared common ground of facts and reporting and ideas.
A former managing editor of TIME, Isaacson is author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
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