Journalism will survive the significant challenges it faces only if it succeeds in engaging and empowering readers and viewers, NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw said Tuesday.

Before a packed auditorium in the Whitney Humanities Center, Brokaw argued that new forms of journalism hold great promise but that they must be used thoughtfully. Journalists need to be more proactive in promoting journalism as a vital part of society, he said.

“For too long we have talked and you the viewers have listened, we wrote and you read,” Brokaw said. “Now [the media] needs to engage readers and viewers in the future of journalism … The new viewer is empowered as never before to satisfy his needs and curiosity.”

Before addressing the future of journalism, Brokaw recalled the power of network television news to bring people across the country together. Still, he acknowledged the limits of journalism’s prior generation, including a failure to cover gender issues, the health sciences and Asia.

Today, he said, the world faces a starkly different problem. Rather than having a relative scarcity of informed coverage, consumers of media can now pick and choose information from countless news sources, including network television, newspapers and the Internet.

“Does this new reality of television represent a step forward, or is it simply a retreat to the lowest common denominator of common interest and exploitation?” Brokaw asked. “The answer: all of the above.”

Brokaw challenged the audience to take an active part in the modern wave of journalism by choosing its news sources carefully and being wary of misinformation that may appear in the unfiltered media.

While journalism is alive, Brokaw said, it is on “life support.” But he said he sees promise in collectives of investigative journalists who sell their work to newspapers, television networks and Web sites. These transactions make the news more reliable and assist viewers in making informed decisions, he said, while also providing a sustainable financial model for journalism.

The four students interviewed said the talk brought out the tensions created by new technology and ways of getting information.

“The benefits of new technology in the journalism industry are striking, but it is clear from Mr. Brokaw we need to be cautious, careful and innovative in our business models,” Peggy Liu ’11 said.

Rachel Styer ’12, however, said she had difficulty connecting on a personal level with Brokaw’s experiences.

“His talk was insightful, but I wish he were more relatable,” Styer said. “His anecdotes seemed to be from another era of journalism, and I couldn’t really relate to some of the issues he was trying to convey.”

Over the course of his 47-year career, Brokaw has served as anchor of “NBC Nightly News” and “Today.” He has also made 25 documentaries on a variety of subjects, including Watergate and global warming.