Chuck Todd moderates a new digital series geared toward a college-aged audience entering “an uncharted ‘unknown.’”
“I’m sitting back and letting these students take the reins.” – Chuck Todd
Today, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd starts a new type of conversation with the NBC News Digital Series “Meet the Press: College Roundtable.” Unlike the long-running Sunday program that inspired it, the members of the press at the forefront of these discussions are student journalists picked from across the country — including one from Georgetown University — to share their investigative analyses and personal stories concerning the effect of the pandemic within their communities.
The program’s interviews with influential figures and experts like Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University, and Dr. Robert Robbins, president of the University of Arizona, offer viewers an education-focused perspective to the public health crisis, while also refining the participating students’ interviewing skills. Todd spoke with Washington Life about his goals for the series as moderator, student engagement with the Washington media and shining a light on the issues that matter to a college-aged audience.
WL: Why college students? What was the inspiration for a college-themed version of “Meet the Press”?
Todd: “Meet the Press” has always been about robust discussion and different viewpoints. And, asking the tough questions to those in power. This is exactly what we’re hoping to accomplish with this.
College-level students, whether going into their freshmen year or on the cusp of graduating, are entering this uncharted ‘unknown.’ What does the fall semester look like? Is it safe? What are my dollars going towards? These are politically engaged and unsure students with questions they want answered from those making the decisions. And we hope to give them that platform.
WL: What do you hope to achieve by these discussions?
Todd: We’ve created a platform that showcases college voices – their perspectives, experiences and viewpoints and the questions they want answered. And while I’ll help guide the conversation, I’m sitting back and letting these students take the reins. During our prep sessions, I told them, “If you don’t get the answer you wanted, follow up.”
It should be informative for their peers. We told them to ask the questions of decision makers that their friends need answers to. I’m sure that our regular “Meet the Press” viewers will find this just as interesting, but the emphasis of this series is to engage college-level viewers and students and hopefully get to the bottom of issues that they care about.
WL: What can we learn from student journalists like those participating in the roundtable? How can we use their insight and analysis?
Todd: This new generation of aspiring journalists appear to be getting into the trade for different reasons, perhaps, than aspiring journalists over the last few generations. This younger generation, at least in my experience, is focused on getting into journalism because they believe their story and their life experiences haven’t been covered well or covered at all. So, we are already seeing a more diverse set of experiences influencing this new generation of journalists and we could always use a different set of eyes in this business.
“College-level students, whether going into their freshmen year or on the cusp of graduating, are entering this uncharted ‘unknown.’ What does the fall semester look like? Is it safe? What are my dollars going towards? These are politically engaged and unsure students with questions they want answered from those making the decisions. And we hope to give them that platform.” – Chuck Todd
WL: How have you adapted the traditional “Meet the Press” format to this program?
Todd: Every Sunday, we put policymakers on the program to hold them accountable to their constituents and our viewers. Then we discuss with a panel representing different news organizations and viewpoints. And every Sunday, I hope our audiences leave with a little clarity and understanding.
This series is not that much different. We hope to find clarity and understanding – but for those in this uncharted territory of what the next year of learning will look like.
But we’re adapting a tried and true format that Meet the Press mastered in the early days of the program where a panel of interviewers pose questions to one person. We’re making that work for the digital age, when everyone is quarantined and mostly working – and learning – from home.
WL: The first episode includes a student from Georgetown University. How are university students engaging with political journalism? How has the Washington media landscape, specifically, changed?
Todd: Washington, D.C. wasn’t always a place where rising journalists thought was a place to first get their start. Now, as more of the media industry is concentrated in the Acela corridor of New York and D.C., there’s definitely been an uptick in students coming to universities in the district to get an education in, say, history or political science, but wanting to use that to pursue a journalism career.
We’ve also seen the Washington press corps diversify and become nimbler and more entrepreneurial. The bad news with this development has been a “skipping over” of sorts of covering city halls and state capitals. I do think this is the vacuum that many college journalists can fill locally.
WL: In your experience attending school in Washington D.C., how does being situated in D.C. affect students’ exposure to and investigation of the issues impacting them and impacting the nation?
Todd: I didn’t know I wanted to be in journalism when I came here. I knew I wanted to come to Washington. If I were doing it again, I’d be a lot more active in college news orgs.
“We’re adapting a tried and true format that “Meet the Press” mastered in the early days of the program where a panel of interviewers pose questions to one person. We’re making that work for the digital age, when everyone is quarantined and mostly working – and learning – from home.” – Chuck Todd
WL: The virtual panel involves students all across the country. How does the roundtable bridge different experiences and bring attention to different issues and perspectives?
Todd: That’s an important goal of ours – to identify students that represent a diverse group. Different backgrounds, different experiences, different schools of thought and different stages of where they’re at in their education.
We’ve found during the research for this and speaking to different students that the questions they have about the future of their education and how COVID-19 impacts them and their families, is a somewhat similar experience. They’re wondering about how their day-to-day lives will continue to be impacted and not just in academics but sports, socializing, entertainment, traveling, family, and so on.
WL: What is the value of including personal stories and anecdotes from the students participating in this program in addition to a macro view of the situation?
Todd: That’s what makes this real. It’s what they’re experiencing and what they’re unsure of and questioning. We took a back seat and asked them what they want to know and understand and who they want to talk to. That comes with them sharing their own experiences and perspectives. Our team at “Meet the Press” includes decades-long news industry veterans all the way to those that graduated just a year ago. But none of us were finishing or entering school during a pandemic like this. Their experiences shape the questions they have and the policy and decision-makers they want to speak to.
New episodes of “Meet the Press: College Roundtable” stream each Thursday at 9:45 p.m. on NBC News NOW and will be available every Friday on NBC News’ digital platforms, including the NBC News YouTube channel, NBC News’ “Stay Tuned” on Snapchat and NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock.