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November 15, 2016

PBS journalist Gwen Ifill remembered for history-making career

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Essential question

How will Gwen Ifill’s legacy in the field of journalism be remembered?


PBS NewsHour co-anchor and longtime political journalist Gwen Ifill died Monday after battling cancer for the past several months.

Ifill, who was 61, spent the majority of her career covering politics and making a name as one of the most trusted journalists in print and broadcast news. She began as a newspaper reporter in Boston and went on to work for the Washington Post and the New York Times — where she was often one of the few African American reporters in the newsroom — before transitioning to television at NBC News.

Ifill moderated vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008 and wrote “The Breakthrough”, a best-selling book chronicling Barack Obama’s historic win in 2008. Calling her a friend and an “extraordinary journalist,” President Obama remembered Ifill Monday as someone who inspired future generations of journalists.

“She always kept faith with the fundamental responsibilities of her profession, asking tough questions, holding people in power accountable, and defending a strong and free press that makes our democracy work,” the President said.

After joining PBS to host “Washington Week” in 1999, Ifill also became a senior correspondent on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” In 2013, she and co-anchor Judy Woodruff became the first all-female news anchor team after taking over for Lehrer. Together, they covered two elections, co-moderated a Democratic primary debate and brought the news to millions of Americans each weeknight for three years.

“She was the gold standard in our business, known for a fierce allegiance and loyalty to her family, friends, and colleagues, but also to the facts,” Woodruff said.

Ifill inspired generations of future journalists by her example and mentorship. Her commitment to the news and to telling stories lives on through them and the viewers who loved and respected her work.

“We have a dedicated, committed audience who want to know more, who want us to dig a little deeper on their behalf,” she said in a recent interview. “I think it’s kind of vital to democracy that we do exist.”


Key terms

journalism – the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, the radio or the Internet

public media – public broadcasting includes radio, television and other electronic media outlets whose primary mission is public service. Funding often comes from the government and private citizens and foundations

mainstream media – a term used to refer to the various large mass news media organizations that deliver the news and influence a large number of people

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. Who are people you look up to in your life?
  2. Are there any journalists you admire? If so, who and why?
  3. What is the job of a news anchor?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why was Gwen Ifill respected by so many of her viewers and colleagues?
  2. What are some aspects of Ifill’s life that may strike you as unique or interesting?
  3. What challenges do you think Ifill faced in her many years as a journalist?
  4. Why is diversity important to news coverage?
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