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Shepard Smith stepped away from the Fox News Deck for a few moments to reflect on one of the biggest stories of his career, Hurricane Katrina, now 10 years in the past, but still fresh in his mind. Smith told Adweek even now, it’s hard to talk about:
Adweek: It’s been 10 years since you reported on Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Is there part of what you saw that doesn’t go away?
Shepard Smith: I don’t like thinking about it. I don’t like thinking about 9/11, I don’t like thinking about my mom dying, I don’t like thinking about Katrina. I love New Orleans and the people there. Sometimes things are just so big and so frustrating, you don’t want to think about them, and I don’t really like thinking about it. It’s been 10 years, and everybody’s thinking about it. I’m willing to think about it, but I’m not willing to like it. I don’t know what I gain by reliving it. I lived it already. I’m pretty confident that I’m not going to change my mind about how I feel about it.
Have any lessons from that experience guided you in the 10 years since?
Yes—that you should really go find out for yourself. That’s something that I’ve always known, but it was just proved over and over again that we have to be there. Part of our responsibility is to witness it. I always tell young people around here, if you don’t see it, or taste it or smell it, or feel it, whatever it is, you have to attribute it. And if you can’t attribute it with certainty, then you can’t air it.
What’s the day-in and day-out as the breaking news division managing editor?
You spend all day being news salesmen most of the time. I’m selling you on a product. My product is news. I’m really into it; I want you to be interested in it. If I need to stand on my head and gargle peanut butter to get you interested to maybe go read a little bit more, or go to FoxNews.com, or listen to a podcast, I will do it. Then on the big day, we’re going to tone it down and take it real slow and not overdo it with anybody because that’s when it really matters. We’re in place for the day when it really matters. I’m proud of the fact that we’re the ones who are doing that. It sounds like a sell, but for somebody like me and the people on my team, it’s not a sell at all—it’s a huge commitment. That most people would not put on a Fox News Channel because Fox News Channel is a bunch of right-wing nuts. But really what we are is an opinion and news organization that keeps the two separate, and they want us to be there when big things happen, sometimes for long periods of time and for days on end and that’s what I want.
Brian Williams is headed to MSNBC as a breaking news anchor. Do you have any advice for him?
No, I don’t have any advice. I just don’t really like to get in the middle of things like that. It was my boss, Roger Ailes, who said he thought they should bring him back. He didn’t murder anybody. They should give him another chance. And that sounds reasonable. I hope it works out for all of them because the truth is that the more competition there is, the better we all become.
You work in a computer-and-giant-tablet-packed studio called the Fox News Deck. What do you see coming in the future of news and media?
I hope what these tools are going to allow us to do is get things right more quickly. Often it’s the reporting of journalists that sends an armada when one is necessary. So it’s my hope that we can get things right and get them fast—in any of our properties, we’re not just a television company anymore—to get information out so that people can react to it. Maybe it’s our place now. Because our place is not to be the first informers of breaking news. That’s not possible. That’s a social media thing. But we want to be the ones who vet it. We want to be the ones who help you figure out what’s real and what’s not in your feeds, however you consume information.