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Journalist Gwen Ifill: In Her Own Words


One of the first things President Obama did at his press conference today was pay tribute to "PBS NewsHour" anchor Gwen Ifill, who died today at the age of 61. The president said Gwen did her country a great service.


Gwen Ifill will be remembered as a journalist who broke barriers and as a friend and colleague to many of us in public media.

MCEVERS: In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to host a major political TV talk show with "Washington Week In Review." In 2013, she and Judy Woodruff became the first all-woman team to anchor a network news broadcast.

SIEGEL: Gwen Ifill spoke about her start in journalism during a commencement address to the American University's School of Public Affairs in 2014.


GWEN IFILL: I was drawn to journalism because of the need to be the necessary voice - not to force my opinions on others but to broaden the stage for the debate. And along the way, I have to say, there were some perks. I was played by Queen Latifah twice on "Saturday Night Live."


IFILL: Honorary degrees are nice, but that was really cool.


IFILL: Your necessary voice can invest in the power of possibility. You can relish the unexpected. You can claim the path you never really intended to take. And there is a lot of work to be done. Only a select few, however, are willing and able to do it, and you are now among them.

With this degree in hand, there are options, and there are choices out there for you that others don't have. But you have to look up to see them off that screen. There is information to be had, facts to share, solutions to discover. But you have to look up.

MCEVERS: Gwen Ifill also talked about the First Amendment's protection of free speech. She said it provides a cloak but also a responsibility.


IFILL: It's important to be reminded how easily we can be denied simple, obvious opportunity, how low the ceilings can get and how much fortitude it takes to refuse to accept the limits that others place on you. But you now have the skills to transcend those limits. Whose stories can you tell? Whose voices are not being heard? Who gets to decide which stories and voices get ignored? And what are you willing to do about it?

Personally, I have a flat spot right in the front of my head from trying to break down walls my entire career, forcing diversity of thought and opinion into newsrooms and onto the air. Whatever else you do with your lives, I hope you remember to fight those battles, too.

SIEGEL: That was journalist Gwen Ifill, who died earlier today. Gwen was 61. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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