American Broadcast Journalist Judy Woodruff, former anchor and managing editor for the PBS NewsHour, spoke to a full audience at Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Arts on Wednesday evening. In her remarks, Woodruff communicated what she calls “a message of hope,” detailing how she consistently overcame setbacks and made an impact throughout her career as a female political journalist. 

Judy Woodruff with members of The Rearview team.

Woodruff began her lecture shortly after 8 p.m., describing her upbringing moving around the country and the world as the daughter of a military serviceman. She recalled how changing homes and schools gave her the skill of adaptation and the ability to build strong relationships from a young age, which has helped in her professional career. Woodruff also thanked her mother profusely for encouraging her to pursue an education as a young woman.

Woodruff then recounted her time as an undergraduate at Meredith College, followed by Duke University, where she ultimately fell in love with political science. She delved into her early career in the news industry, humbly describing her then-unprecedented climb from a newsroom secretary to a household name, proclaiming herself “the luckiest journalist in the world.” 

Having persevered through adversity, first as a college graduate with political aspirations in Washington and later as a female reporter starting out in the 1970s, Woodruff expressed gratitude for how far society has come in gender equality since the start of her career. While she is grateful for increased opportunities for women in journalism, she addressed the future with a perspective of growth. 

“In my view we still need young women to have the confidence to know that they can go into journalism, politics, government, business, the career of their choice, and have an opportunity and get the support they need,” she said.

In the latter portion of her speech, Woodruff referenced her current project, America at a Crossroads, which seeks to investigate and reconcile increasing ideological division in the United States. 

After 11 years as a PBS anchor, Woodruff is ecstatic to get back to her roots as a reporter and looks forward to learning by talking to everyday American people. As she discussed the phenomenon of hostile polarization, Woodruff stressed the importance of facts-focused journalism in 2023.

“We need probing journalists in every part of the country if we’re going to keep this democracy strong,” she said.

Woodruff’s presentation was followed by a discussion panel composed of Bank of America Executive Dani Cassidy, Connecticut Feminist/Activist Geena Clonan, and Fairfield University’s own Dr. Philip Eliasoph. The group discussed a variety of topics from the hardships and triumphs of women in journalism to the effects of polarized media on the state of democracy and the collapse of local news. 

When asked about problems facing future generations of journalists, Woodruff acknowledged the growing issue of misinformation. 

She explained, “The press today is so different. It’s everything from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and The Associated Press, all the way to a blog that somebody just started yesterday.”

Woodruff stressed that while media institutions face pressure to deliver accurate, objective information, there is also a new burden and responsibility placed on consumers to assess the credibility of news sources. As she discussed the importance of facts-based reporting, Woodruff shared a personal anecdote, recalling a producer early on in her career who taught her about reporting objectively. 

She fondly recalled how her producer once told her, “Nobody gives a damn what Judy Woodruff thinks. We want you to go out and cover the news.”

More specifically when speaking to young people in journalism, Woodruff appeared optimistic for the future of the field. She is aware of what is at stake, but has confidence in the American people to tackle tough challenges and come out stronger on the other end.  

Apart from her remarks on journalism and democracy today, Woodruff emphasized one message to young women in the audience:

“Yes, you can,” she stated firmly. “You are looking at someone who, despite the odds, didn’t even know what my dream was when I was your age.”

More information about the event and others to come is available on the Quick Center’s website.

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