Cronkite awards luncheon celebrates renowned women journalists

Judy Woodruff headlined the Cronkite school's annual luncheon

The Cronkite school honored Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, two pioneers in journalism, during its annual awards luncheon on Oct. 19 at the Sheraton hotel in downtown Phoenix.

Ifill and Woodruff hosted and managed "PBS NewsHour" together from 2013 to 2016, before Ifill passed away in Nov. 2016. 

Ifill was best known for her work at "Washington Week" and "PBS NewsHour." Besides "NewsHour," Woodruff has also covered politics and news for many other news organizations, notably NBC and CNN.

They were both recognized at the event for their contributions to journalism — for mastering the art of the interview, as well as holding people of power accountable, according to those who spoke at the event. 

Christopher Callahan, the founding dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, opened the event by praising Woodruff and Ifill. 

"We are here to celebrate vast and bright leaders, who are great journalists, groundbreaking leaders and good friends," Callahan said. " ... (Woodruff is) more important today than ever before." 

Adriana De Alba, a student in the graduate program at Cronkite, said Woodruff and Ifill "knocked down barriers in an area driven by men," and called them "two of the top political reporters of their generation."

Gwen Ifill's brother Roberto Ifill accepted his sister's award. He said she had "insatiable curiosity," and her unique gift for writing pointed her to a career in journalism. 

He also said his sister had a lifelong commitment to two tenets of journalism: getting the stories right and getting the right stories. 

After Roberto Ifill's speech, Woodruff took the stage and accepted her award. 

After she expressed her gratitude, Woodruff said Walter Cronkite was one of her biggest inspirations in journalism. 

"I'll never forget sitting in front of the TV set watching Walter (Cronkite)," she said. 

She said she knew Cronkite represented the "gold standard" of journalism when she followed his coverage of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Woodruff said the award comes at a "fraught moment" in journalism.  

She said people stray away from mainstream media because the internet and social media are free, which leads people away from newspapers.

"It's affected every facet of our industry," she said. 

She also said that "there simply aren't enough reporters" anymore, and that it affects the public's ability to know what's going on, especially in smaller markets. 

Woodruff said President Donald Trump's attacks on the mainstream media are unjust, especially with their impact on the world the last few weeks. 

She said that without the "mainstream" New York Times and New Yorker, in-depth investigations into allegations of sexual harassment by movie producer Harvey Weinstein would not have been published.

She quoted the president, saying Trump has called the mainstream media "fake, and an enemy of the American people."

"I am not an enemy of the American people," Woodruff said. "I love this country and I always will, and most every journalist I know feels the same way."

Woodruff said journalists have a hard job, and with all of the bad things happening in the world, it's important to remember a journalist's duties.

"We as journalists must report," she said. "We have to tell you what's going on, and we must put it in perspective, through the eyes of the American people." 

She said, despite uncertainty about the medium's future, that journalism will never stop being a part of America. 

"It will always survive," she said. "We will always need to know what's going on around the U.S." 

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