Distinguished journalist and television news correspondent Gwen Ifill is one of the most successful female African-American reporters of all time.
She worked for the Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC and PBS. She moderated two vice presidential debates and received 15 honorary degrees.
Born on September 29, 1955, in New York, New York. Gwen Ifill was a leading African-American television reporter. The daughter of a minister, she had a strong religious upbringing and went to Simmons College in Boston where she majored in communications. Through an internship, she got her first hands-on experience as a journalist.
After graduating in 1977, Ms Ifill went to work for the Boston Herald-American as a reporter. She began to focus more on politics with her position at Baltimore’s Evening Sun. While there, Ifill had her first opportunity in front of the cameras as the host of a news show for a local public television station. After stints at such prestigious publications as the Washington Post and The New York Times, she switched to television reporting by joining NBC News in 1994 as a congressional correspondent. Besides her work as on-air reporter, she appeared as a guest on several political programs, such as Meet the Press and Washington Week, a show that features a roundtable discussion on public affairs.
Clearly impressed with her analytical skills and journalistic savvy, PBS hired her for two of its news programs in 1999: NewsHour With Jim Lehrer and Washington Week. She worked as a senior correspondent for NewsHour, conducting interviews with key figures and filing reports on the latest news. Ifill also filled in as news anchor for Lehrer from time to time.
On Washington Week, she served as the program’s moderator and its managing editor.
Capable of handling complex issues and different, sometimes clashing personalities, Ifill was called upon to moderate a number of political debates, including the first vice presidential debate during the 2004 presidential campaign between Dick Cheney and John Edwards and in the 2008 campaign, between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.
Ifill was also the best-selling author of The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. In an interview with The New York Times, she reflected on what her appointment could mean to a new generation.
“When I was a little girl watching programs like this — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color,” she said. “I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy [Woodruff] sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal — that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all.”
Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, said Ifill was “a fundamental reason public media is considered a trusted window on the world. Her contributions to thoughtful reporting and civic discourse simply cannot be overstated,” Kerger said. “She often said that her job was to bring light rather than heat to issues of importance to our society. Gwen did this with grace and steadfast commitment to excellence.”
A distinguished journalist with a long career, she was also a board member of several organizations, including Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. She was 61 and had been battling cancer.
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.
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