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Spotlight on: Gwen Ifill, pioneering journalist

04 Feb 2021 - Fiona Raleigh

Black History Month has been celebrated in the USA in February since 1970. It provides a platform to celebrate the achievements of Black people, which for many years have been overlooked in the teaching of history. It is an excellent opportunity to put a spotlight on the contributions of America’s Black community across science, politics and the arts.

Who was Gwen Ifill?

Born in 1955 in Queens, New York City, Gwen Ifill was an American journalist, television newscaster and author. She is widely regarded as one of the most successful female African-American news correspondents of all time.

Ifill’s interest in politics and the news began at a young age. In this interview, she describes how growing up as a minister’s daughter first led her to learn about politics. She would watch the ways in which people in the church positioned themselves to get things done, as well as the exchanges that were made, and she came to appreciate the intricate nature of politics.

Indeed, this passion and appreciation would continue throughout her life. She enjoyed a career in journalism that spanned nearly 40 years, with positions at The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC, and PBS.

Gwen Ifill’s path to success

Gwen Ifill attended Simmons College (now Simmons University) in Boston and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Communications in 1977.

Known for its women-centered undergraduate education, Simmons College was the perfect place for Ifill. According to her brother Dr. Roberto Ifill, she enjoyed the fact that it was a college that focused on preparing women for careers.

During her studies at Simmons, Ifill interned at the Boston Herald newspaper and was later offered a full-time position with them after she graduated. She then went on to work for the Baltimore Evening Sun from 1981 to 1984 and The Washington Post from 1984 to 1991.

“Simmons prepared me so well for the choices I would have to make in life.” — Gwen Ifill

Her dream was to report on the White House, so when an opportunity arose to do just that for The New York Times in 1991, she embraced it and stayed in that role until 1994.

Next, she made the transition from print journalism to television with a job reporting on Capitol Hill (the heart of US politics) for NBC. In 1999, she joined PBS as a moderator of Washington Week in Review, and became the first Black woman to host a national political talk show on television in the USA.

In 2004 Gwen Ifill broke through another barrier when she became the first African-American woman to moderate a vice-presidential debate. Then, in 2008 she took on this role for a second time for the debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

Gwen Ifill’s legacy

Throughout her career, Gwen Ifill was known for her accurate and unbiased reporting, and her work garnered multiple awards, including the highly regarded Peabody Award.

In addition to these accolades, a key part of her work was mentoring young journalists, and nurturing the next generation of reporters. She was a role model for many people and her reputation as a pioneering Black woman journalist who overcame obstacles and prejudice to rise to the top of her profession is truly inspiring.

Follow in her footsteps

Gwen Ifill sadly passed away in 2016 at the age of 61, and in 2018, Simmons University founded The Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts and Humanities as a tribute to her life’s work and with the aim of carrying on her legacy.

One of the initiatives that Ifill might have appreciated most of all is the College’s signature Mentors-In-Residence program, which invites talented professionals to campus to share their knowledge and foster students’ potential.

If you’ve been inspired by Gwen Ifill’s incredible contributions to journalism and you’re interested in following in her footsteps, then use our degree finder below to search for degrees at The Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts and Humanities.

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