Gwen’s Take: Making History – Turning a Page at the PBS NewsHour

Posted: Thu, 08/08/2013 - 2:18pm

Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff co-anchored all PBS NewsHour's  2012 special election coverage [Photo: PBS Newshour]. 

I am in the business of slapping together what we call the first draft of history every day, so it has been a little jarring to suddenly be making history myself.

But that’s what Judy Woodruff and I will be doing a little of beginning in September, when we combine forces to co-anchor the PBS NewsHour.

Each of us has spent decades covering Washington, especially its politics. Both of us have fielded our share of questions about what it’s like to be a woman in the news business. But I can safely say our intent this time was not to make history. It was to continue to make a good news program.

Still, I have been taken aback -– and gratified -– by the response of so many to our new roles. At a gathering of television critics this week, Judy and I were asked to comment on whether what we are doing is historic.

Herewith, my response:

“We would like for the day to come when it's not news anymore, when two women sitting side by side, who have the depth of experience that Judy and I bring to the subject at hand and to the task at hand, would just be another thing that girls see every day, but they don't see it every day right now.  And I know we're both really proud, and I've gotten amazing reaction from young women who are touched by the idea that this is break‑through for them, that they're going to see something different.  So we want to live up to that.”

And here is what Judy said:

“We all talk about wouldn't it be great to be in a day and a time when it's not remarkable anymore, but it's still as exciting.  This is a kind of a glass ceiling.  Clearly, women have come a long way in journalism and in television news, and this is one more barrier that's been broken down.  So we celebrate that, but now it's time to get to work.”

And, Judy added, we’re not the first anyway. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey broke that barrier on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” We’re just doing it for real.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler became the first two-woman anchor team to host Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" sketch [Photo: NBC]

We are turning a page here at the PBS NewsHour -– expanding the program to seven days (with weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan), freshening the look and the feel of the broadcast, while not sacrificing what we know to be important.

Hari put it this way:

“Over time you're going to say, ‘You know what, who is going to make sense of this for me at the end of the day,’ whether it's a lean‑back or lean‑forward experience on a weekday or a weeknight or on air or online.  ‘Who is going to help me understand what just happened and why it happened?’  Because I think, in my opinion, opinion is cheap.  Fact is expensive, and we're still in the fact business, and I think that over time you're going to see that, while we can't get to the plane crash as fast as somebody who was on the plane crash, we can help you understand why it happened.”

Opinion is cheap. Fact is expensive. I warned Hari that I intend to steal that line, because it perfectly sums up what is essential about programs like the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week (where I will continue to spend my Friday nights).

There are plenty of places on television to find out what other people think about the issues of the day. But if you’re looking for news programs designed to help you decide what you think, the pool of destinations continues to shrink.

That’s where we come in. And if we make a little history on the way to that destination, so be it.

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