In her introductory remarks, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Lizabeth Cohen praised the duo for their groundbreaking role on PBS’ “Newshour,” where they became the first all-female team to head a major network newscast program.
“In covering the news, they made the news. Judy and Gwen weren’t just a stellar team of journalists with decades of experience on camera and print, they became part of the history of American journalism,” she said.
Woodruff was joined onstage by Walter S. Isaacson ’74, CEO and President of the Aspen Institute and bestselling author of “Steve Jobs” and “Benjamin Franklin: an American Life.” Their discussion covered a broad range of topics, including Woodruff’s friendship with Ifill, career challenges for women and minorities in journalism, and changing conditions for young journalists.
Woodruff said she hoped to see more efforts by national media outlets to include journalists who are not only women or people of color, but also from geographically underrepresented areas.
“We’ve done a much better job of including women in the work that we do, including minorities, but we also need to get out to the people in rural areas and cover the industries we don’t see,” she said.
When asked about advice for young journalists, Woodruff stressed the increasing need for enthusiasm.
“Jump in, the water’s great,” she said. “We need you; we’ve never needed you more than now.”
At the end of the ceremony, journalist and former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” Michele L. Norris accepted the medal on behalf of Ifill. Ifill passed away in November 2016 at the age of 61.
Norris said Ifill was always aware of those who would follow in her example.
“She knew she couldn’t just bust down doors, but that she had to hold them open,” she said.
Many attendees praised the discussion for how it dealt with issues of gender, race, age, and truth.
Lani Guinier ’71, a professor at the Law School, called the discussion, “Amazing, powerful, and emotionally difficult.”
Rob N. Shapiro ’72 said he thought Woodruff and Ifill’s example was a “great sort of fulcrum moment” between an older and younger generation of journalists.
“The experience of the Woodruff Ifill team represented here is, as they said, both emblematic of how far those individuals have come in their own careers and how inspirational and instructive they can be,” he said.
“They saw a critical need for the work that they were doing as a way of trying to keep focused on facts, focused on truth, focused on telling the story carefully and well,” said Ellen B. Feingold ’50.
According to the Institute’s website, the Radcliffe Medal is annually awarded to someone “who has had a transformative impact on society.” Previous recipients include University president Drew G. Faust, chair of the Federal Reserve Janet L. Yellen, and author Toni Morrison.