Gwen Ifill, highly respected journalist and NLP board member, dies at 61


Gwen Ifill, one of the most respected journalists of her generation and a member of the News Literacy Project (NLP) board, died today in Washington, D.C. She was 61.

Ifill was the award-winning moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS and co-managing editor and co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. She covered the presidential campaign and the political conventions this year while quietly battling cancer until going off the air in recent weeks.

“Gwen was one of the greatest journalists of our generation,” said Don Baer, chair of both the NLP and PBS boards. “She was a true national treasure. The measure of Gwen’s impact went far beyond her professional achievements. She was a generous, kind, warm soul and a thoughtful, constant friend. Everyone whoever knew her, whoever worked alongside her, who ever was touched by her genuine kindness will miss her. I know I will.”

NLP President Alan C. Miller said, “We were honored to have had the opportunity to work closely with Gwen on a cause to which she was deeply committed. She was a relentless advocate for news literacy, an extraordinary journalist and a treasured friend.”

Ifill joined PBS in 1999, becoming the first woman — and the first African-American — to serve as moderator of Washington Week. She previously was the chief congressional correspondent and a political correspondent for NBC News, White House correspondent for The New York Times and a local and national political reporter for The Washington Post.

She was a senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour until August 2013, when she and Judy Woodruff were named the show’s co-anchors and co-managing editors — marking the first female co-anchor team of a network news broadcast.

A smart, thoughtful and probing reporter, interviewer and analyst, Ifill covered seven presidential campaigns. She moderated vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008, and she and Woodruff moderated a Democratic primary debate between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders in February. Her best-selling book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, was published on President Barack Obama’s inauguration day in 2009.

Ifill’s work was widely praised and much honored. In 2015 she was presented with the National Press Club’s highest honor, the Fourth Estate Award. She also was honored by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center and the National Association of Black Journalists. A native of New York City, she was a graduate of Simmons College and received nearly 30 honorary degrees.

An active member of NLP’s board since 2011, she served on the governance committee, playing a key role in vetting numerous board candidates, and was instrumental in deciding to approach an outstanding group of individuals who make up more than half the current board. She pushed to seek members who would bring expertise, experience, diversity and a strong commitment to NLP’s mission.

She never missed an opportunity to talk about NLP and news literacy in her numerous speeches and public appearances, most recently at an event at the Newseum on her birthday in September.

She also participated in several NLP events, including “Race and Politics in the Age of Obama” at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2009; the kickoff event for NLP’s expansion into the District of Columbia at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in 2012; and a forum on “America’s Changing Role in the World and How the Press Covers It” at George Washington University in 2013.

Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, and Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist at The New York Times, both agreed to participate in that 2013 event at Ifill’s invitation. As Mitchell said that evening: “Nobody says ‘no’ to Gwen Ifill.”

Baer, who worked with Ifill over three decades, said about her contribution to NLP: “She embodied the very best about the mission of this organization. We will carry on in the way Gwen would have wanted, especially in these times that demand even more in terms of news literacy from every person in this country. She will always be an inspiration to us.”

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