Gwen Ifill life and biography

Gwen Ifill picture, image, poster

Gwen Ifill biography

Date of birth : 1955-09-29
Date of death : -
Birthplace : New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-07-12
Credited as : Journalist, political talk show host,

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Gwen Ifill, also known as: Gwendolyn Ifill, born September 29, 1955 in New York, New York, United States is an African-American journalist.


Being a moderator of a political talk show is a difficult job. However, Gwen Ifill, the first African American and first woman to do so, has successfully accomplished this task and has made "Washington Week in Review" a continuing must-see PBS program. With her "external sense of cool and serenity... serious smarts, smooth execution and a healthy dose of skeptism," Ifill, noted Salon.com, is a "natural" moderator who keeps the focus on the discussion of events and views.

Gwen Ifill was born in New York City in 1955. Ifill's father, a preacher, raised his five children to maintain a reverence for both the church and for current events. "The church was like a life force in our home," Ifill recalled in People. And, it was the family's main constant connection as her father moved the family from church to church throughout the Northeastern United States. However, another connection would guide Ifill to her career. Every night her father would gather the family at the dinner hour to watch "The Huntley-Brinkley Report." As she further recalled in People, "My parents wanted us to know what was going on in the world."

Early Career

In the mid-1970s, Ifill moved to Boston, Massachusetts to attend Simmons College, where she earned a degree in communications. After graduation, Ifill began her journalism career at the Boston Herald. Although the hot topic of the time was the busing crisis, Ifill's first writing job focused on food. "That was the one writing job that was open," she recalled to Salon.com. Ironically, Ifill couldn't cook, but realized that "you could write about anything at the day's end that you knew nothing about that morning."

In 1981, Ifill left the Boston Herald to work for the Baltimore Evening Sun. Although focusing on print reporting, Ifill accepted an invitation to appear as a panelist on Maryland's PBS program, "Maryland Newswrap." Everett Marshburn, Maryland Public Television's vice-president, told Broadcasting & Cable, "She's got a good nose for news, and she knows how to explain stories. She's tenacious, and she's intelligent."

By 1984, Ifill was ready for a new challenge, so she accepted a position at the Washington Post. By 1988, she had risen to the reporter's position at the national desk and began covering that year's presidential campaign. "There's nothing like working for a political paper through and through to really teach you the nuances and meaning of politics," Ifill stated to Broadcasting & Cable. "I give it credit for what I know." What Ifill learned was to "ask every question you have in your head," she continued. "The question you don't ask is the question you are going to regret."

Moved from NBC to PBS

In 1994, after a two-year stint as the New York Times's White House beat reporter and after regularly appearing as a panelist on "Washington Week," all three TV networks were offering Ifill on-air correspondent positions. Ifill finally chose to work for NBC and covered the White House, Capitol Hill, and presidential campaigns. She revealed to Salon.com that reporting live never had made her nervous, but "there was something about it [doing live shots for the "NBC Nightly News"] that made me conscious that millions of people were watching."

However, by 1999, Ifill missed being a reporter. Two and three minute wrap up stories were not enough for the once print journalist. "When you are in print, you cover a beat," she told Salon.com. "You learn to immerse yourself and know everybody involved with your beat." Being a correspondent did not allow Ifill this immersion, so when PBS offered her not only her own program but also a reporter's position, "I couldn't turn down the combination," she stated to Broadcasting & Cable.

Stayed True to Upbringing

By 2000, Ifill's career was soaring, yet during her rise she never forgot two things: her family and her responsibility to young African Americans. First, after her father died, Ifill began taking care of her cancer-stricken mother who eventually died from the disease in 1994. "That's what I have to do," she told her brother, Roberto, as quoted by People. "I'll take on the responsibility." Yet, she also assumed the responsibility of being an African American woman who has one of the top jobs in television. "I don't know if you can get past race in America," she further commented in People . "But I don't see it as a negative. It can often be a positive." Ifill believes that one positive is that young minorities see a successful African American woman and begin to think that they could also be successful. "I want to be that kind of example," Ifill told the Christian Science Monitor.

Over the past twenty years, Ifill continually worked her way up the ranks of print and television journalism. She credits her success to "perseverance and an abiding interest in what I do," according to Broadcasting & Cable. "I've never been a coward. I always keep trying new things." Two new things Ifill has brought to "Washington Week in Review" are a more diverse panel of guests and field trips outside the studio to hear what ordinary Americans think about current political issues and events. Salon.com noted that Ifill's "serenity" draws viewers in, but it's her philosophy--that "bad news will find you and the good news doesn't, so you have to focus on what's good in your life" that has, so far, kept viewers watching.

October 2, 2008: Ifill was selected to serve as moderator for the vice presidential candidates' debate on October 2, 2008.

January 2010: Ifill went on tour to promote her book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, published by Anchor Books.

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