Managing Editor and Anchor of the PBS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff, reflected on her experiences as a female journalist covering politics at O’Donnell Hall in the Owen Fine Arts Center on Feb. 8.
Woodruff, although now an award-winning journalist, was not always certain she wanted to go into journalism. She was told she should study math. As a woman, Woodruff was faced with microaggressions from the beginning. When she was in her freshman Calculus class, she had a professor who thought women should not be taking advanced math courses.
“It was not the most encouraging experience,” Woodruff said. “But at the same time, I was taking a course in political science, and the professor was so on fire and in love with talking about government and politics that it got me interested.”
Eventually, after a few twists and turns she realized she enjoyed covering politics.
After college, Woodruff interviewed with an ABC affiliate in Atlanta. After the interview, the interviewer told her that she was hired.
“I thanked him, got up to leave, and then he said ‘besides how could I not hire somebody with legs like your’s?’” Woodruff said.
“I thanked him, got up to leave, and then he said ‘besides how could I not hire somebody with legs like your’s?’”
That recount audibly appalled the audience, with groans across the room.
Women were pitted against each other in the journalism field. In Woodruff’s career, there were comments such as ‘news stations “already have a female news reporter.”‘ There were larger realizations too, like finding out her co-anchor at a Georgia CBS affiliate was making significantly more money than her for the same job. Woodruff was forced to overcome the idea women must tear each other down instead of build each other up.
“At the time there were so few women that it was almost as if they were watching the women to see how they competed with each other, how they worked against each other,” Woodruff said. “Gradually over time, that went away because more and more women came in, but in the early days, there were so few of us that they were pitting us against each other. It was probably effective.”
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The first presidential campaign Woodruff covered was the 1976 election, where she was convinced she had to be open-minded and give peanut farmer Jimmy Carter a chance. She was on the ground covering him until he became a front runner. Woodruff was then taken off the trail, and her job was given to another, more experienced journalist, which almost caused Woodruff to leave that NBC station.
“You learn so much more from your setbacks and your failures than your successes,” Woodruff said.
In today’s technological age, journalism evolves with its changing media. Woodruff commented on how this affects her job and how she has to now operate at warp speed.
“We are on a constant deadline,” Woodruff said. “If you have a good story, if you have a great lead now, almost always you want to just get it out there right away.”
We are on a constant deadline. If you have a good story, if you have a great lead now, almost always you want to just get it out there right away.
Woodruff ended her interview with a message for the young journalists she was speaking to.
“I tell young people if you think you’re interested in journalism, stick with it,” Woodruff said. “We need you.”