Lester Holt Previews NBC News Special 'Coronavirus Pandemic'

Meaghan Darwish
NBC news Lester Holt
Q&A NBC News

NBC Nightly News' Lester Holt is tackling the Coronavirus in an NBC News Special Report: Coronavirus Pandemic.

Hoping to provide some insight on the global crisis, Holt, along with various correspondents and experts, will present the latest information about the situation Americans and everyone across the globe currently face. In collaboration with Facebook, viewers will be able to submit questions on the NBC News and MSNBC Facebook and Instagram pages that will be answered on air.

We caught up with Holt ahead of the Thursday, March 19 broadcast. Below, he's previewing the special, discussing changes in the newsroom and more.

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How long will the NBC late-night sketch show be on hiatus?

What should viewers expect from this coverage?

Lester Holt: Well, this is going to be rolling out in real time. This story keeps changing by the day and so it will reflect where we are in this crisis. But it essentially embodies what has been our guiding principal from the beginning of this which is to bring the facts to people. This is not a story that we have to sell but what we do have to do is remind folks that we're here to get the answers.

It's a shared crisis, we're all in this, we all have the same questions and we want real answers, even the ones that are going to be ugly. So, we're putting together a panel of medical and other experts in the field as well as our team of correspondents who will show your where things stand, what we're prepared to handle, what could come and [the] personal efforts to protect ourselves. And we'll try to answer as many questions as we can from our viewers.

Lester Holt

(Credit: Heidi Gutman/NBC)

What's key to approaching and reporting a global crisis like this?

It's tough because early on in the reporting at one point I reminded people that we're not here to alarm you, we don't want to do that, but we do need to address these issues and go wherever this story will take us. And it's obviously taken us down very dark alleys. The key is to balance our coverage with things that offer some hope. I've done some reporting on the work on vaccines but we also have to talk about the state of our medical infrastructure right now.

Our primary job as journalists is to hold our leaders in account and we're trying to do that as well. But really, this is basic journalism, this is asking the questions and getting the answers as quickly to folks as we possibly can and also try to dispel rumors. A lot of different stories are floating out there and a lot of them aren't nefarious, it's just a result of when people don't have information. When people are frightened, that's when [rumors] sometimes find their oxygen.

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What kind of changes have you noticed in the newsroom as many offices go remote?

It has transformed our work in ways that I just can't believe. I have an open door policy in my office, but my door is now closed. I'm essentially self-isolated at work, my interaction with people even 30 feet from me is over the computer or on telephone. I obviously have to go to a studio, where we're maintaining distance there, I'm putting on my own audio equipment and microphones. So we're working the best we can and try and take care of each other.

We're also prepared to move, I've got a camera and a live setup in my living room, if that's where I have to anchor Nightly News that's what I'll do. My colleague Savannah Guthrie, she was feeling under the weather today, and she decided to heed the advice and stay home and she was able to broadcast from home. It's not ideal, but as long as we're able to continue to provide answers, whether we do them from a multi-million dollar studio or my dining room table, we're going to do it.

NBC News

(Credit: NBC News)

What can you say about the correspondents and specialists involved in this broadcast?

Cynthia McFadden did a fascinating piece last night about the makers of ventilators — there's only a handful of them in the country and now they're under great pressure to produce a lot them in a very short amount of time as they can be critical in treating some of the more serious patients. And so, we'll have her reporting, and as I said, a lot of this we're still developing the broadcast because it's going to reflect where we are at the moment.

What else would you like viewers to know?

[I'll] say we're journalists who got into this business because we want to make a difference and we want to inform the public and be accurate and that's what we're doing. This is our calling. I'm proud to have that role during this global crisis.

NBC News Special Report: Coronavirus Pandemic, Thursday, March 19, 10/9c, NBC, MSNBC, NBC News Now and Telemundo Digital