Gwen Ifill remembered as influential journalist

Credit: Ashley Chan/ Credit: Ashley Chan/
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For every gender barrier that has been broken down, there have been brave women to strike the first blow. The world of journalism is no exception. This week, journalists and broadcasters are mourning the loss of Gwen Ifill, who, as a journalist, carved a path as a black woman in a field dominated by white men.
Ifill, who had been battling with cancer, died on Monday at a hospice in Washington, D.C. She was 61 years old at the time of her death.

Ifill is best known for her work covering the White House, Congress, and national campaigns over the past three decades as a journalist and broadcaster for The Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC, and PBS. She moderated the vice presidential debates during the 2004 and 2008 elections, was the moderator and managing editor for “Washington Week” on PBS, and, with colleague and fellow trailblazer Judy Woodruff, hosted PBS’ nightly news program, “NewsHour.” Together, she and Woodruff made up the first all-female news anchor team on network nightly news.

As media goes, broadcast journalism has presented largely white, male anchors. In an interview with The New York Times, Ifill stated, “When I was a little girl watching programs like this — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color. 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.”

And that is exactly what she did. Ifill made herself visible, she did not back down as a reporter, and she embraced the fact that it’s very hard to be a trailblazer.

Especially on a platform like broadcast media, there are many stereotypes for women to break down. Too often, women on television are objectified, made to be like props rather than people with opinions, or overshadowed in debates and nightly broadcasts.

Ifill, however, made her voice heard loud and clear. She asked tough questions and expected the most out of her coworkers and guests. She did not let the gender bias in her industry speak for her, and she was much more than a pretty face on TV. When Ifill delivered the news, she didn’t deliver the news as a female newscaster, she delivered the news as a newscaster — her gender didn’t matter.

Of course trailblazers have their speed bumps, and Ifill had to deal with her fair share. Hate mail from racist viewers, or sexist viewers, would fill her inbox, but she didn’t let that stop her from continuing to deliver only the highest quality of journalism. She took everything with a grain of salt and moved forward.

It can be difficult being a trailblazer, being a pioneer. It can be difficult when the rest of the world does not believe that you can do it, not because you have proven yourself unqualified but because of your race and gender. But Gwen Ifill handled the burden with grace and power, and will be greatly missed.