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Keeping track of 'what's next'

MSNBC's Lester Holt has made a reputation for himself as a reliable and hardworking news anchor but few know that he is a self-described "lover of toys." Tech toys, that is.
Lester Holt sits in front of his home computer set-up.
Lester Holt sits in front of his home computer set-up.Courtesy Of Lester Holt
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MSNBC's Lester Holt has made a reputation for himself as a reliable and hardworking news anchor but few know that he is a self-described "lover of toys." Tech toys, that is. As he prepared to host MSNBC's "Tech Summit 2004" with National Geographic Ultimate Explorer's Lisa Ling he took time to answer questions about how technology has helped shape his work as a journalist -- and his life at home.

Technology has changed a lot since you first started working in a newsroom. Has technology made your job as a reporter and anchor easier?
Lester Holt: The first newsroom I worked in had a telephone and a UPI teletype machine.  When a bulletin would cross the wire, a series of bells would ring and a red light would flash.  We would hover around the teletype and wait as each word was slowly typed out to see what this important breaking story was. That was 1978. 

Today, all the wire service stories appear immediately in my desktop computer, and I’m even able to screen video right at my desk. As the Internet has transformed the lives of millions of Americans, it has had a huge impact on the way reporters go about their business. The ability to download government documents, reports, and records, means the days of digging through files at city hall are virtually over. On the production side of the business, the ability to digitize and edit video on a computer offers great flexibility in how we actually compose a story for air.

We’ve heard you’re a tech-savvy guy yourself, and that you use Webcams to keep in touch with your family. What kind of tech tools do you use outside of work?
Holt: While I joke about being a “lover of toys,” the truth is I don’t choose hi-tech items for their “gee, whiz” value, but for their ability to make my life easier and more organized. I installed a Wi-Fi network in my home in 1999, because I recognized the time-saving flexibility in being able to be on the web from any room in my house via my laptop. Nowadays, I take advantage of Wi-Fi access in coffee shops and airports when I’m on the go to stay in touch with work and family. 

Speaking of family, I carry a Webcam with me while on the road and am able to have two-way video/audio conversations with my family anywhere I have broadband access.  My sons both have Apple isight cameras so they can always stay in touch with Dad when he’s on the road.  

While my work at NBC News is in front of the camera, at home I like to work the other side of the camera. With my DV camera and a speedy laptop, I shoot and edit my own videos using both imovie and Final Cut Pro.  Not only do I produce vacation and other family videos, but I’ve been known to shoot “behind the scene” videos of some of my road trips that I share with my NBC colleagues.

Of course, I’ve also embraced the whole digital music revolution and can often be found running errands in Manhattan with my favorite jazz tunes blasting in my ear.

What kind of gadgets are you most excited to learn about and present in this tech summit?
Holt: I am most excited about the new wireless TV technology that we’ll be demonstrating in the "Tech Summit." The idea of being able to carry my TV from room to room really intrigues me. You can now even watch MSNBC live on a cell phone. How cool is that?

If you were an inventor, what gadget would you design and why?
Holt: A video-camera cell phone.  Imagine a reporter being able to cover a break story live, beaming pictures from the scene with just his cell phone!

So much of what makes the news these days is war and politics. Why do you think a “Tech Summit” is a worthwhile event?
We can no longer afford to be a nation of techno-phobes. Things that may appear to be a gimmick or a luxury can one day quickly become a necessary tool. Witness the cell phone, the laptop commuter, the Internet. All are now required tools of business and have even found vital roles in the everyday lives of many people. You may not be planning to buy a High Definition Television this year, but there will come a day when you may not have a choice.  This show is important in letting people know “what’s next.”

Watch Lester Holt demonstrate the latest in gadgets, talk to one of his sons via Webcam, and shoot and edit video live at '

airs live from New York on March 21, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC .