Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour speaks on objectivity, polarized media landscape during GJR’s 50th virtual anniversary celebration

Before she was considered a “beacon of
professionalism and civility” in the journalism industry, PBS NewsHour Anchor Judy Woodruff was starting
out at a local television station in Atlanta in an era where women were lucky
to be hired in broadcast journalism.  

Virtually, Woodruff was honored by Gateway
Journalism Review, formerly the St. Louis Journalism Review, on Oct. 13 with
its Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to journalism over decades
as a journalist.

The journalism review also celebrated 50 years
while hosting a conversation between Woodruff and Jon
Sawyer, the Executive Director
of the Pulitzer Center
for Crisis Reporting.

(Photo by Patrick Powers)

Since 2011 Woodruff has anchored the Newshour.
In 2016, after the death of her co-anchor Gwen Ifill, Woodruff became the sole
anchor of the news program. She is also the Managing Editor.

Woodruff started in national journalism in
1977 when she became a White House reporter for NBC. She later anchored CNN
during the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the 9/11 attacks, and the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq. She also co-anchored a seven-hour series, Democracy in
America, that highlighted some of the anxieties that dominate today’s news cycle.

Throughout, she’s been setting the standard
for excellence in the journalism industry, Sawyer said.

In spite of the idealized version of the
objective news broadcaster that is publicly revered, Woodruff there is no such
thing as objectivity.

“I am the sum total of all of my life
experiences. I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m even a grandmother. I am somebody
who grew up as an army brat in Oklahoma, lived in the South, lived overseas.
All of that comes together,” she said.

Although her life experiences inform her
reporting perspective she also considers herself an “old-school” journalist
taught how to keep personal opinions out of her reporting.

Analysis, and Opinion

In today’s media landscape viewers have
trouble distinguishing between opinion, analysis, and reporting. Journalists
should be more mindful about expressing their personal thoughts, Woodruff said.

“There is great reporting going on, but on
television news, there is a trend of celebrating and driving opinion.
Reenforcing people’s views,” Woodruff said. “It takes a strong reporter to be
put in some of those situations though because depending on which program
you’re on or which host is asking you questions you can find yourself in a
corner being asked to give your opinion.”

Opinion-driven journalism that grabs so much
of the public’s attention also drives polarization in the political climate,
Woodruff said.

Debate Approach

The contentious first presidential debate
between Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump
exemplified the divided climate as Trump interrupted Biden and the moderator,
successfully derailing the traditional event.

“In the first debate, it was almost impossible
to control that. I don’t know what else could’ve been done, other than maybe
saying to the candidates, ‘we’re going to take a pause and take a breath. We’re
going to stop this debate and come back in 60 seconds to two minutes’,”
Woodruff said.

Woodruff said another component influencing
people’s beliefs and actions is social media because so many people find their
news on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

News organizations and social media may both
be informational platforms, but their missions are different, she said.

“They changed how journalism works for better
and worse,” Woodruff said. “It’s a bloodbath and a lot of it has to do with
what has happened with these big social media sites.”

Depends on Great Journalism

American journalism outlets will have to
figure out how to make journalism marketable to compete with the new
informational market that social media sites dominate, she said. The solution
will need to be clever and a tenacious approach to keep journalistic
enterprises afloat because our country’s democracy depends on it, Woodruff

A savior, like a billionaire who buys papers and stations like Warren Buffett or Jeff Bezos, is not coming to save news, she said.

“People want to be entertained. Not everyone
has an interest in following news and information,” she said.

The NewsHour, being funded publicly through
the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and donors big and small, is one model
that is successful. Woodruff said that model in combination with others could
make a difference in the industry.

Woodruff credited her team of journalists at
the NewsHour for adapting and producing critical journalism during the pandemic
when about 95% of the staff is working from home.

What used to be Woodruff’s home library is now
her in-home studio filled with lights, cameras, computers, and wires, she said.

“It was put together by really smart
journalists who learned how to do all of this,” Woodruff said. “I marvel at
what my colleagues have been able to do.”

With the upcoming election, the PBS Newshour
team will be focusing on how long it will take for the election results to come
in after large sections of the public use mail-in ballots to cast their vote.

“We have to have good information. People that
we can call and be in touch with immediately,” she said.

Woodruff said the NewsHour is not concerned with being the first news program to declare a winner, but the one that is right.

Amelia Blakely reported from Nashville, Tennessee. She recently graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is now a 2020-2021 Campus Consortium Fellow with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in Washington D.C. You can find her on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely

Gateway Journalism Review celebrates 50 years, honors St. Louis locals with Whistleblower and Freedom Fighter awards

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jeremy Kohler
and St. Louis Attorney Mark Pedroli will be honored by Gateway Journalism
Review this week for keeping tabs on St. Louis County government and
transparency within Missouri’s government.

Jeremy Kohler and Mark Pedroli

Additionally, GJR will present PBS Newshour’s anchor Judy Woodruff a Lifetime Achievement Award at the magazine’s 50th anniversary virtual celebration on Oct. 13. Gateway was founded in 1970 as St. Louis Journalism Review by Charles and Rose Klotzer. 

The event
will include a pre-election conversation with Woodruff. The anniversary
celebration and awards ceremony, the magazine’s primary fundraiser each year,
was postponed in April because of the pandemic.

Freedom Fighter Award

Jeremy Kohler was awarded the 2020 Freedom
Fighter Award for his investigative reporting uncovering a pay-to-play scheme of former St. Louis County Executive
Steve Stenger

Kohler has worked for the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch for about 22 years.

In addition to his reporting on Stenger,
Kohler also extensively covered the McCloskey couple who were recently indicted by a St. Louis grand jury for waving
guns at racial injustice protestors
over the summer and Ferguson
protests in 2014, said St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editor-in-Chief Gilbert Bailon.

“Recently, he’s been an outstanding beat
reporter on the St. Louis County beat,” Bailon said. “That beat is ripe with
everything from political intrigue, the pandemic, and jail deaths. By nature,
he is an investigative reporter, but he’s a damn good beat reporter too.”

Bailon said Kohler’s investigative and
storytelling skills are what keeps him continually publishing hard-hitting
stories that help keep the Dispatch’s work relevant to a local and, sometimes,
the national audience – even as local newspapers across the country are in a
financial crisis.

“He is very astute and a keen observer,”
Bailon said.

Since the pandemic began in March, Kohler said
reporting his beat has been one of the busiest at the paper, as he kept an eye
on a zoom meeting for a story he was currently following in an interview with

“It’s been an enormously uncommon year,”
Kohler said. ‘It’s been really two years of constantly breaking news.”

In addition to being in multiple places in one
time keeping tabs on multiple stories Kohler also tries to plan investigations
for his own story ideas in attempts to set the agenda of the public discussion
instead of simply reacting to the news cycle, he said.

Whistleblower Award

Mark Pedroli, an attorney and founder of the
Sunshine and Accountability Project, was awarded GJR’s 2020 Whistleblower Award
for unearthing Missouri government secrets by using the state’s sunshine law.

Tony Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
columnist who has written about Pedroli’s cases against the government
officials for violating the transparency law said the attorney’s cases elevated
the issue of transparency with his suits.

“Those lawsuits make a big deal,” Messenger
said. “Writing about these issues don’t necessarily force lawmakers to do the
right thing, but when they have to go to court and defend their actions, they
look at sunshine a bit differently.”

Pedroli’s successes have brought real
accountability in city government, Messenger said.

He has sued the former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens for
using a burner app, Missouri House of Representatives, and St. Louis County jails, among other
governmental entities, Pedroli told GJR.

The Sunshine and Accountability Project’s
recent litigation was against the St. Louis City for having closed meetings about airport
. The attempt has since failed, arguably because of the
Project’s suit, Pedroli said.

“Most of the records we are litigating over
are public records and should be disclosed. Not only because they are public
records, but because these records also help the public weigh in on reforms
that need to be done. For example, in the prisons,” Pedroli said.

Since the pandemic, the Sunshine and
Accountability Project has followed who knew what and when regarding the
Coronavirus, Pedroli said.

“We know that there was a wide variety of
Senate and House of Representative Members who were in meetings in February.
Top Secret meetings about science – what’s so secret about the deadliness of a
virus?” Pedroli said about the report that elected officials had private
meetings a month before the pandemic began, warning about the potential
consequences the virus could have on the nation’s economy and the stock market.
“We know what happened with those secrets. They used them for their advantage
and sold stock before the market collapsed.”

To him, transparency is a prerequisite to civil liberties, the ability to reform a democratic government, and keeping the public safe.

Amelia Blakely reported from Nashville, Tennessee. She recently graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is now a 2020-2021 Campus Consortium Fellow with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in Washington D.C. You can find her on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely

Judy Woodruff to speak about the election at Oct. 13 GJR event

Judy Woodruff, a veteran broadcaster who has been in the television industry for more than 40 years, will discuss the election at Gateway Journalism Review’s  fall fundraiser on Oct. 13. She will be interviewed by Jon Sawyer, director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting who will also present her with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The fundraiser is an annual event organized by the Gateway Journalism Review to recognize people who have made outstanding achievements in their journalism career and raise funding for the publication of the print magazine of GJR. This year marks the journalism review’s 50th anniversary celebration, marking the founding by Charles Klotzer. (GJR was founded as St. Louis Journalism Review.)

“Judy Woodruff is today’s Walter Cronkite or, in the public media realm, Jim Lehrer,” said William Freivogel, GJR’s publisher. “That is, she is one of those unique people who has unassailable integrity and credibility. In an era of fake news and political divisions, this is no small feat.  She is unflappable, modest, conversational, trustworthy.”

Woodruff is anchor and the managing director for PBS NewsHour. She started her career in Atlanta in 1970 as a news anchor at CBS affiliate, WAGA-TV, where she reported for local and state governments. She left for NBC in 1977 and was there until 1983. While at NBC, Woodruff served as NBC’s Today’s Show chief Washington correspondent and also wrote her book, “This is Judy Woodruff at the White House.”

Woodruff joined PBS in
1983 and worked there for 10 years. After a stint at CNN hodgins “Inside
Politics,” he returned to PBS in 2006. Some of the programs she has anchored
and produced at PBS are “Frontline with Judy Woodruff”, “Nancy Reagan: The Role
of a Lifetime, and Generations Next: Speak Up. Be Heard”.

Woodruff has covered
the presidential election since the time of Jimmy Carter in 1976.

believes that “a free press is at the heart of a democracy; it’s what ties the
American people to their government, to each other, and to the rest of the world.”
At the October event she will be discussing the press’s role and the upcoming

who will be interviewing Woodruff, started the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
in 2006. It is one of the most successful of the new era of nonprofit online
news organizations. It provides grants for veteran reporters as well as for
students to tell untold stories from around the world. At first the center
concentrated on international reporting but more recently has been funding
local reporting as well. The Pulitzer Center has collaborated with the NewsHour
on many projects. The Sawyers and Woodruff are neighbors and friends but they will
be in their own homes during the interview.

Two other
awards will be given at the event. The Freedom Fighter Award goes to Jeremy
Kohler, investigative reporter, at St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  He is being recognized for his many
investigative stories, including disclosures of law breaking by former St.
Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who now is in prison. GJR also will give
the Whistleblower Award to Mark Pedroli, a St. Louis lawyer who founded the
Sunshine and Accountability Project. Pedroli, in 2019, filed a lawsuit against
the Missouri House for withholding public information about some elected
officials in the state.

“Like all
media outlets, particularly the community news organizations in the Midwest
where we are based, the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has been
challenging for us,” said Spinner, the GJR editor. “This fundraiser is crucial
for us to raise the money we need to produce our quarterly magazine and to
offer our digital news for free.”

GJR is
one of two remaining journalism reviews in the country. It covers media news
between the coasts and is based at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

(Editor’s note: Jackie Spinner, GJR’s editor, is a current
recipient of a Pulitzer Center grant for her latest documentary, and the
Pulitzer Center helped fund GJR’s landmark issue about race in St. Louis
earlier this spring. Publisher William H. Freivogel has received Pulitzer
grants past and present for stories on police accountability.)

Ololade is a PhD Candidate at Southern Illinois University
where she is researching international communications in the Global South. She
is the social media editor for GJR.