A young journalist gathered letters of thanks to Gwen Ifill
On Thursday, "PBS NewsHour" shared letters and a video from journalists that Ifill inspired. Reporter Kenya Downs wrote that "women journalists of color offer a special reflection on her impact in an industry once dominated by White men."
After learning of Ifill's death, Downs kept thinking about the first time she saw Ifill. Downs was 8 or 9, and Ifill was on "Meet the Press." As a kid who used to steal her brother's telescope and pretend it was a microphone, Downs wanted to be a reporter, but she didn't think it was possible. No one on TV looked like her.
Then, she saw Ifill.
"I kept thinking, 'I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who feels this way,'" Downs said.
Here's some of what New York Times political reporter Yamiche Alcindor wrote in her letter to Ifill:
Growing up wanting to be a journalist, the fact that you were covering the White House, that meant something. That meant that I could go and pursue the career and become a journalist.
From CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson:
I had a little picture of you that I taped to my computer. I’d gotten it off the internet because I so admired the path that you took: the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, the New York Times, NBC and all of your wonderful work at The "PBS NewsHour" and with "Washington Week" as well. I loved the way you asked questions.
Ifill's impact on Downs continued throughout her career, including the time they worked together. A key moment came for Downs in college, when Ifill was the commencement speaker at Howard University. When she graduated in 2009, the job market was rough. She wondered if she could really go into journalism industry.
Listening to Ifill was the extra motivation she needed to know it was possible, she said. Because of the economy, she'd have to work harder and struggle more, but the impact her work could have would be worth it.
"I hung on her every word."
Ifill's image hangs on a wall of portraits at Poynter. This week, a small tribute appeared beneath it.