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Gwen’s Take on journalism, race and Queen Latifah

BY   November 15, 2016 at 3:45 PM EST
Gwen Ifill speaks after winning a Peabody for her show "Washington Week" in 2009. Photo by Lucas Jackson/File Photo - Reuters

Gwen Ifill speaks after winning a Peabody for her show “Washington Week” in 2009. Photo by Lucas Jackson/File Photo – Reuters

We at the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week lost our dear colleague, Gwen Ifill, to cancer on Monday. During her life, she often was called upon to discuss journalism, but other topics, too: among them, race, music and advice for young journalists.

In a 2009 interview with Julian Bond for the University of Virginia’s Explorations in Black Leadership series, Gwen discussed how she approached moderating two vice-presidential debates and covering Boston school desegregation in the 1970s:

“If it were about me, then I’d ask a smart question and kind of preen and chase them around the table: ‘why didn’t you answer my question, Mr. Senator?’ That doesn’t really add anything to the conversation. In fact, it detracts, because it makes me the story.”
In Boston, “I found it was a test for me to talk to people who I had nothing in common with whatsoever, members of the Boston school committee, who were adamantly against busing and if given the chance would have denied me every opportunity I ever had in education. But I wanted to hear what they had to say.”

You can read the full transcript of the interview here.


At Morehouse College, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta, Gwen delivered the commencement address in 2011:

“To me, race is not all about grievance. It is also about pride and empathy and humanity and understanding the value of difference. But along with that, there are also expectations that we should set for ourselves and for others. We should expect to be treated as equal citizens. Our children should not expect to be inferior. We should all expect that anything is achievable, if not now then soon.”

Gwen enjoyed talking to young people and encouraging young journalists. In September, she shared her love of politics and journalism with students at Colorado College:

“I believe if we only are talking to people who agree with us we are failing in some way to understand our world and our country. We have to make sure that everything we’re finding out isn’t just what happened around the corner, what happened with only our friends, what happened with only the politicians or radio hosts we like to listen to. Otherwise, we stay stuck in the bubble.”

Gwen on Queen Latifah’s portrayal of her on Saturday Night Live after the second vice-presidential debate: “It was a hoot!”


In a speech accepting the 2008 Peabody Award for “Washington Week,” Gwen said, “How we do it is with more light than heat”:


Gwen took to Facebook earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of “Washington Week.” She fielded questions about the 2016 presidential race, her book and why few people saw Donald Trump’s candidacy coming. (It’s worth cranking up the audio):


And finally, she spoke about her influences with her friend and fellow journalist Michele Norris, for a 2015 episode of the PBS series “The History Makers”:

“Every now and then … I just get caught up in whatever the day’s work is. And, invariably, somebody will come up to me and tell me the story of their little girl. And it always stops me in my tracks, because, as long as I remember that there is someone on the other side of the piece of equipment, the camera, who is watching me with expectation, and it can shape what they do next, I just take what I do seriously every single day.”
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