Lester Holt on Covering Coronavirus Pandemic for Younger Audiences: 'Empower Them with Knowledge'

With NBC Nightly News: Kids Edition, the anchor reports on complex issues without sugarcoating

Lester Holt Talks NBC Nightly News Kids Edition
Lester Holt. Photo: Courtesy of NBC News

Lester Holt is being straightforward yet delicate about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in his new broadcast reports geared to children.

With NBC Nightly News: Kids Edition, the anchor, 61, aims to deliver the latest headlines with clarity for young people, careful not to talk down to the target audience, rather to help them understand the unprecedented worldwide situation.

"It's a great way to continue to leverage our reporting strength and our integrity and reputation, but to tailor a newscast toward a younger audience," Holt tells PEOPLE of the new series. "Not to sugarcoat it, but to really tell it in a way that they might find some news that will comfort them, that will help them understand that they're not alone ... and also try to empower them with knowledge about the virus."

Holt notes that "the more you know about something, the less scary it becomes."

The journalist did, however, become aware that a barrage of updates about the pandemic became overwhelming to some, prompting the new family-friendly approach.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories

"Every night I would do the newscast and it was just so grim and so heavy and the numbers were so overwhelming. I began in the back of my mind to worry about — there's families that are watching, there's kids that are watching right now," says Holt.

"Traditionally when we have a very sensitive story, we do a warning that advises our viewers it's graphic, but in this case it was 30 minutes of just really tough stuff," he adds. "When this idea was presented, it was like, 'Oh, this is terrific.' "

According to Holt, the Kids Edition is "more casual" — not only because the anchor ditches the suit and tie for a less-formal attire.

RELATED VIDEO: Today's Dylan Dreyer Opens Up About Quarantining with Newborn and Toddler: 'It's a Reality Check'

"We do try to write it in a way that we make sure that we explain some of these things that you're hearing a lot about, like vaccines," he explains. "A lot of the program is built around their questions. We invite families to send in the kids on tape, to text us their questions ... and that's been great because it really helps us know where kids are thinking."

"They're worried about things like, 'Well, why can't I see my grandparents? Why can't I be with my friends if they're okay and I'm okay?' They're all legitimate questions and I think ones that even we adults are asking as well."

Nightly News: Kids Edition is available to stream on NBCNews.com, NBC News' YouTube channel, and on the new streaming service Peacock.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

Related Articles