By ALISON BETHEL MCKENZIE
I have always wanted to be a journalist, ever since my elementary school in Richmond Heights held its annual Career Day and a reporter from The Miami Herald arrived to talk about her job. I was mesmerized by the reporter’s description of her job, of collecting and disseminating information to the masses about their community and the people who live in it. I was hooked.
So, I immediately set my sights on doing what I could do to achieve the goal of being a journalist.
Years passed of college and internships, first and second full-time jobs until I landed the plum position of Washington Bureau Chief for The Detroit News.
Along the way, I was lucky enough to have a number of older, veteran journalists to serve as official or unofficial mentors.
One of those journalists was Gwen Ifill. I first came into contact with Ms. Ifill at the
National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where I sat on the board of directors for a number of years. I was in awe as I watched her walk through the hallways. In awe because I was very aware of her reputation as a serious, well-respected and talented journalist. She hosted the television program Washington Week in Review and was co- managing editor of PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff. She was a Peabody award winner.
But for me, even more importantly, she was an example of what a black woman in journalism could accomplish.
It was thrilling and motivating to see her host not one, but two, vice-presidential debates, at the same time I was leading my Washington reporting team in coverage of the election. Earlier this year, she and Woodruff became the first women’s-team to moderate a presidential debate – between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Ifill started as a print journalist, working for major newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The New York Times. Like me, she left one newspaper where she was denied the opportunity to cover Capitol Hill only to be hired by a bigger newspaper who assigned her to cover the White House.
I, too, left a newspaper to have the opportunity to work in Washington when I learned that the opportunity would not come from my then-employer. Soon after leaving that paper, I landed in Washington as one of the few women and minorities to hold the position of Washington Bureau Chief.
I am convinced that Gwen’s accomplishments, her career paved the way for me and so many others.
She was a special kind of journalist, and a special kind of person. Everyone knew it. President Obama sent condolences to her family and Michelle Obama attended her funeral, along with more than 1,000 others. Her tenacity and commitment to ethics and good journalism, as well as her commitment to her community, made me want to be better. She made me want to be the kind of journalist that younger people in the business look up to.
I am a better journalist because of Gwen, and I hope that my journalism career will honor her memory and the memory of those who went before her.