• Camille Perkins

Gwen Ifill: Breaking Down Doors With Professionalism in Journalism

Journalism Professional Influences The Masses With Her Style And Dedication To Her Craft

By: Camille Perkins

Black History Month is a great event which celebrates the history of Black culture and features spotlights on Black leaders and their contributions to society. In 2022, New York City celebrated its park renaming initiatives with an exhibit featuring prominent Black New Yorkers who have impacted the masses. Efforts the previous year, with the renaming of several parks after Black leaders from New York, including Journalist Gwen Ifill. Ifill was a respected journalist from New York City, New York whose groundbreaking career would set new standards in the field of journalism. Her career was a successful one, as she worked for outlets like The Boston Herald, The Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, NBC, The New York Times and PBS. Ifill was an astounding interviewer who challenged stereotypes and gained the respect of her professional peers. Her work influenced many in the journalism and media world.

Breaking Down Barriers

During her time at Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts, Ifill began her career by interning at The Boston Herald newspaper where she would eventually start as a reporter. From there, she worked with The Baltimore Evening Sun as a political reporter. She later reached her most notable positions, which were during her time at PBS as an editor and moderator of Washington Week in Review and as co-anchor and an editor of PBS

Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour
Ifill and Woodruff of PBS NewsHour

NewsHour. Her role at Washington Week would make her the first Black woman to host a prominent political news show. At PBS NewsHour, Ifill and Judy Woodruff were the first entirely female-led anchor team in the history of network broadcast. She moderated several vice presidential debates and conducted presidential interviews. Ifill was aware of the impact that she was making, but she did not seek to make it a big deal since she wanted these groundbreaking roles to be normalized.

Ifill once stated, "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."

Ifill's Impact and Honors

Gwen Ifill honored by U.S. Postal Service Forever Stamp
Gwen Ifill honored by U.S. Postal Service Forever Stamp

Ifill’s work and accomplishments as a journalist had a substantial impact. She was a skilled interviewer and professional reporter that gained the trust of her audience. Her reporting and interviewing lacked bias and displayed professionalism that allowed anyone to feel comfortable talking to her. She once stated, “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.” Her ability to understand and acknowledge various views and professionally conduct interviews and reports made her reliable. Her reliability and the relationship she built with her audience and peers would lead to her earning several awards and honors. Ifill received over 20 honorary doctorates, the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award, Colombia University’s John Chancellor Award and several others for her work as a journalist. She was also recognized for her work with the News Literacy Project where she served as a board member. Her contributions to journalism were widely appreciated.

An Inspiration to All

During nearly 40 years in journalism, Ifill became one of the most successful African American female journalists in the field. She made a lasting impact on those who met and worked with her. Many people acknowledged her journalist work, including Former President Barack Obama, who said, “She was an extraordinary journalist. 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.”

Ifill’s PBS NewsHour partner Judy Woodruff also commented on her attributes as a journalist. “And it was that trust, her dedication, that was her stock in trade. 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 was an example of proficiency in journalism and set the standard for many journalists today.

Gwen Ifill was a professional in the field of journalism that approached journalism in a special way. Her fair, understanding approach to the field contributed to her success, and her pioneering roles in journalism made her one of the most influential Black female journalists of our history. Those who’ve met her or heard her speak understand the professionalism she possessed. As a Black female journalist covering political issues, she touched new grounds and created a legacy in journalism. Learning about her contributions and the doors that she opened has been inspirational to me as someone exploring the field of journalism. She was part of creating the atmosphere today where it is normal for Black women, like myself, to be writers, editors, reporters and more.

About the Author

Camille Perkins is a current public relations student at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Camille is currently gaining PR experience through various PR courses in preparation for internships and a career after her expected graduation of December 2022.