In 2008, I was an attendee at the UNITY convention in Chicago. UNITY was where four journalism organizations, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association held one joint convention. It was like a Woodstock for news scribes and it was glorious.
One afternoon, I’m walking through the convention center on my way to a seminar and approaching in the other direction was Gwen Ifill. I stopped her and told her how much I admired and respected her. She smiled a pleasant smile and accepted my fanboy platitudes, shook my hand and went on her way.
That’s my personal Gwen Ifill story.
I recall how Ifill moderated the 2004 vice-presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards and she asked a question about the high rate of HIV-infected Black women which clearly neither Cheney or Edwards were prepared to answer. These powerful White men were stunned into silence and mumbles, by an intrepid Black woman doing her job and doing it well.
Discomforting the comfortable: That’s what a real journalist does and Ifill was a real journalist in an age where they’re in scant supply. Gwen Ifill always treated journalism as a profession worthy of respect and she worked hard at The Boston Globe, The New York Times, NBC News and PBS to earn it.
Now more than ever we needed Ifill’s kind of clarity and integrity and with her loss we’re all a little poorer for it.