PBS reporter Gwen Ifill — who died November 14 at 61 years old — was and remains greatly respected throughout the field of journalism.
From beginning her career in the early 1980s as a reporter at the Baltimore Evening Sun, to covering seven separate presidential campaigns, to becoming the co-anchor of PBS NewsHour in 2013, Ifill contributed over three decades of judicious, empathetic, and incisive work in media.
Ifill also had the distinction of being a black woman who was a loud, prominent voice in a predominantly white, male field. Even just this week, she was set to receive the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism — and become the first African American to have that honor in all 21 years of the award’s history.
Ifill knew exactly how powerful and rare it was for her to be in that position. After PBS announced in 2013 that she and Judy Woodruff would be the first two woman to co-anchor NewsHour together, Ifill told the New York Times why being this visible on broadcast television was so important to her:
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 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.
Not having Ifill in the NewsHour seat anymore is a huge blow to representation for women, and specifically black woman, in news media. But as Ifill herself said, her work and visibility inspired many like her to imagine themselves do the same, and in a time when we will need clear-eyed journalism and diverse perspectives more than ever, that kind of influence is truly invaluable.