Ifill speaks to black women in journalism at annual Nieman Lecture series

A packed Weasler Auditorium audience laughed along with noted journalist Gwen Ifill as she offered a witty, multi-faceted message Thursday that focused on the challenges of being a black woman in journalism.

Ifill, managing editor of “Washington Week” and senior correspondent for “PBS NewsHour,” was introduced by Sara Martinez, a senior in the College of Communication and editor-in-chief of The Marquette Journal. Martinez said Ifill’s colleagues described her as “one of the smartest women in journalism,” but one who also still knows how to have fun.

In her introduction, Martinez recalled the “Saturday Night Live” skit in which award-winning actress and rapper Queen Latifah portrayed Ifill as moderator of the 2008 vice presidential debate.

“Try as I might, I have somehow not been able to shake off the suspicion that when people invite me, they really are hoping that Queen Latifah shows up,” Ifill said.

Before joining PBS in 1999, Ifill worked at The New York Times, The Washington Post and NBC News. She appeared at Marquette as part of the College of Communication’s annual Nieman Lecture series and the Centennial Celebration of Women at Marquette.

Ifill stressed the importance of impartial journalism in her lecture

“I’m not a pundit,” she said. “I can tell you what you might want to decide on things, but I can’t tell you what I think, and I hope you never know what I know or what I really think.”

The role of journalists is to give people all the information they need to make decisions for themselves, Ifill said.

“We believe that you are hungry to know that the rigors of daily life have not yet managed to entirely obliterate the need for information that’s happening beyond the ends of our noses, beyond our neighborhoods, beyond our borders,” she said.

Ifill also spoke in support of women as leaders and shared what she tells girls and young women about achieving their goals.

“I tell them what it takes to reach for the stars,” she said. “I tell them to be curious, that there are no dumb questions … I tell them to learn how to write, to challenge authority. And I tell them something no one has ever told me: that they cannot have it all, at least not all at the same time.”

Ifill also addressed being a black woman in journalism.

“Being black is not the problem for me,” Ifill said. “I just don’t want to be held back by it.”

Ifill stayed after her lecture and question-and-answer session to sign copies of her book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”

Dean Hunter, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he appreciated Ifill’s unbiased reporting principles.

“She did a good job of articulating her role and how what she does is different,” Hunter said.