By Alison Crisp Stockley
Out of a love of newspapers grew a desire to become a journalist. Since her elementary school days, Gwen Ifill imagined herself getting to ask the questions and write down the answers. Her dream turned out to be “more of a calling than a career” when she became a Senior Correspondent for “The PBS NewsHour” and Moderator and Managing Editor of “Washington Week.”
Today, Gwen reports widely on topics ranging from foreign affairs to U.S. policies and leads a robust discussion with award-winning journalists providing analysis of the top stories of the day. Each week, millions of viewers appreciate her straightforward and enlightened dialogue, a format that is refreshing in comparison to the sensationalistic offerings of some other networks.
A native of New York City, Gwen was the fifth child of an African Methodist Episcopal minister and his wife. After graduating from Simmons College, she landed an internship-turned-job at the Boston Herald American. She later reported for the Baltimore Evening Sun and The Washington Post. While working as a White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Gwen became a regular guest on TV shows like “Meet the Press.”
In fact, it was NBC’s Tim Russert who dared her to flee from her high profile position in print to join the small screen. “He was the best kind of mentor,” Gwen says. “He gave me the opportunity and made sure I had the resources and support to succeed.” Gwen was the Chief Congressional and Political Correspondent for NBC News for five years, before joining PBS in 1999.
She considers her greatest professional achievement a combination of covering her sixth presidential election in 2008 while writing a book, anchoring two shows and moderating the vice presidential debate between then Senator Joe Biden and then Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin — with a broken ankle propped up beneath the table to boot. During that same presidential campaign season, “Washington Week” launched a 10-city series of road shows across America with live audiences. The regular broadcasts and whistle-stop series earned the show a 2008 Peabody Award.
Reflecting on what it means to be honored as a Matrix Award winner, Gwen admits: “Like most women, I just get up in the morning determined to do the best I can each day for my family, my profession and my world. It comes as a mild shock whenever I am recognized for my efforts. But I am reminded that there are a lot of young women who need to see me standing up there in such good company.” She advises those entering the field of communications to “pursue what you love. Ignore the people who answer your questions with saying why you can’t do something. Embrace the challenges that seem insurmountable. And laugh a lot.”
The Radio and Television News Directors Association, Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center, Ebony and Boston’s Ford Hall Forum have already honored Gwen’s work as a journalist. She has received more than a dozen honorary doctorates and currently serves on the boards of the News Literary Project and the Committee to Protect Journalists. She is also a fellow with the American Academy of Sciences. The future continues to open up for this highly respected, veteran news analyst. Becoming a bestselling author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” showed Gwen that there are always going to be new and more challenging ways to practice her craft. She hopes to keep doing what she does, only better and with greater curiosity, for as long as she can. As for her viewers, we’ll be tuning in for her next installment.