6 takeaways from ‘An evening with Dan Rather’

Dan Rather speaks at a private event, hosted by SmartNews, after the first day of the ONA 18 conference. Photo by Riddhi Sarkar

Broadcast legend Dan Rather spoke to a room full of journalists and journalism students Thursday night about how important journalism is to a just and fair society. Many attendees left the longtime news anchor’s emotional speech inspired and moved.

Getting emotional

While talking about dealing with criticism that members of the press often face, Rather reminded attendees to think about why they got into journalism in the first place and how the profession can be a tool to create a better world.

“Everybody in this room got in for a mixture of reasons, including one: we wanted to be part of something bigger than ourselves, part of something that matters, something that counts,” Rather said.  

New business models

Rather spoke about the necessity of finding a sustainable model for high quality journalism.

“Everyone who says they care about freedom and democracy has a part to play in finding a new business model,” Rather said. “Some new business model that can sustain high quality journalism. This is my own opinion, but I think Facebook, Apple and Google, that now distribute a vast majority of news — they have to figure out, and we have to help them figure out how to share some of their stratospheric revenues with the journalistic organizations that are producing the content.”

Family stories

Rather shared some personal stories during his talk. He said that while stopping at a convenience store right off a Texas highway with family, Rather’s wife ran into her boyfriend from high school. When Rather asked who he was, she told him he was an old boyfriend and said that if she had married him, he would have been the evening news anchor instead of Rather.

Gratitude, Idealism

During a question and answer session after his speech, Rather  told journalism students to focus on developing writing skills and to never lose their idealism.

“I wish I had adopted the model of gratitude, humility and modesty much earlier than I did,” Rather said.


“I appreciate him coming out here to see us and inspire us,” said Yonette Joseph, a weekend editor working for The New York Times in London.

“I thought it [Rather’s speech] was inspiring,” said Karen Scherting, a digital director at Lee Enterprises in Montana. “I thought he spoke to why we’re all in this business and why we’re all here and it’s encouraging to hear somebody in this business for so long still be so enthusiastic about the role of the press.”

‘Tellers of truth’

Rather said that journalists must support each other and focus on producing accurate reporting.

“The country and indeed the world at large, needs you and your work right now,” Rather said. “Now more than ever. The need is for you to to find out and communicate what is going on. What is really going on and tell it. And in that role, a role as establishers of fact and tellers of truth, I suggest that you cannot and must not waver, hesitate or cower.”

This event was hosted by SmartNews.