Gwen Ifill: Pioneering Journalist and Trailblazer

Catherine A. Jones
 | March 12, 2024

When it comes to journalism, Gwen Ifill stands as a beacon of courage, integrity, and trailblazing achievement. She shattered barriers, and left her mark on the media landscape.

But, as she once told me, years ago, before she passed away from endometrial cancer at the age of 61, she didn’t set out to be an Afro-Latina role model. It just happened, with an awful wake-up call in the newsroom.

For Women’s History Month, let’s delve into the life and legacy of the amazing Gwen Ifill.

Who Was Gwen Ifill?

Gwendolyn L. Ifill was born on September 29, 1955, in New York City. Her parents, O. Urcille Ifill Sr., a Panamanian of Barbadian descent, and Eleanor Husbands from Barbados, instilled in her a love for knowledge and storytelling.

“We grew up with the understanding that you had to fight for almost everything you got, that people were going to deny you, if they could, and that you shouldn’t carry it as a chip on your shoulder …” she said in an interview at the University of Virginia.

Her went to Simmons College in Boston, where she studied journalism. “In college, Ifill served as editor of the Vantage Point and chief editor for the Little Black Book, a senior farewell booklet dedicated to the art, writings, and future plans of the senior class members of color,” the Simmons Voice, a university student-led publication, explains. 

During Ifill’s internship at the Boston Herald-American, racism at the workplace reared its ugly head.

“At the paper, they had never seen anything like me. I was a black college girl in Boston,” Ifill told me years ago. “I came to work one day and found a note, apparently for me, on my work space that said “N****r, go home.” 

She was caught off guard, she said. “My first response was: ‘I wonder who this is for?’ Honestly, I was kind of innocent about it because it wouldn’t occur to me that someone would do something like that.”

When she showed the note to her then boss, his reaction told her everything. The company was “very apologetic.” And, Ifill explained, “ … they offered me a job, which I had no intention of taking. But it was the mid-’70s, and there weren’t a lot of journalism jobs. I started getting my rejection notices upon graduation, and I went back and took them back up on their offer.”

Despite it all, she persevered.

A Career of Firsts

Ifill went on to have a media career with a series of groundbreaking firsts.

In 1999, she became the first black woman to host a nationally televised U.S. public affairs program,”Washington Week in Review.” Her eloquence and incisive analysis captivated audiences, making her a trusted voice in political discourse. But Gwen didn’t stop there.

In 2004 and 2008, she moderated the vice-presidential debates, demonstrating her poise and journalistic acumen on the national stage.

Impact on Journalism, and Beyond

Ifill’s commitment to journalism lives through the journalists she mentored and the viewers who respected her work. Her impact extends beyond her lifetime, shaping the next generation of truth-seekers. Here’s a list of her lasting impact on journalism:

  1. PBS Legacy: Gwen found her home at PBS, where she hosted “Washington Week in Review,” co-anchored The PBS NewsHour, and was a managing editor. Her non-argumentative approach to discussing politics emphasized informed dialogue over sensationalism. 
  2. Politics: Ifill’s moderation of the 2004 and 2008 vice-presidential debates were a first for a black female journalist, and left an indelible mark. 
  3. “The Breakthrough”: In her best-selling book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” Ifill explored the changing landscape of American politics. She dissected the impact of Barack Obama’s historic presidency, delving into race, identity, and progress.

Recomended for you

Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
1 2 3 101

© Copyright 2024 | Nuestro Stories | All Rights Reserved

| Privacy Policy