Fred Friendly Award 2010: Gwen Ifill


Gwen Ifill might not have ever met Fred Friendly, but that doesn't mean he has not shaped her life.

The moderator and managing editor of the Peabody Award-winning PBS program, "Washington Week," and senior correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour" was named this year's Fred Friendly First Amendment Award recipient.

She said she has Friendly to thank for her tenure at PBS over the past 11 years. "That's because he was the one who figured that out -- that noncommercial television could be the smartest platform available, that it could be a home for news and information and for his 'Fred Friendly Seminars,' too," she said.

The award is presented annually by Quinnipiac University.

"At first, I have to admit I was pretty certain it was all a mistake," Ifill told a roomful of friends, colleagues and Quinnipiac faculty and alumni at the 17th annual Fred Friendly First Amendment Award Luncheon at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan on June 14. "Here I was a black girl from Queens walking among giants."

Past award recipients include Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Tim Russert, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl and Ifill's colleague, Jim Lehrer.

The award acknowledges one of the most basic constitutional rights and honors those who have shown courage and forthrightness in preserving that right. The award is named in honor of the late Friendly, a broadcast journalist whose work expressed his lifelong commitment to freedom of speech and strong democratic institutions. Friendly was a reporter, producer, former CBS News president and professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Friendly's widow, Ruth Friendly, called the event "the most elegant luncheon of the year, [with] substance for the body and the mind."

"Gwen, you can do it all -- a top writer, a great reporter and a fine communicator," she said. "I can't help but feel Fred's presence. He would be nodding hearty approval, too."

David Ushery, a weekend anchor at WNBC-TV in New York, called Ifill's career extraordinary. "She set the standard for journalism," he said. "She really defines hard news."

Friendly was a very tough and uncompromising journalist, qualities that need to be preserved, said Joe Bartlett , WOR-AM New York news director. "What I admire about her is her ability to ask the tough question," he said. "Quinnipiac should be commended for giving out this award."

In addition to her duties at PBS, Ifill spends a lot of her time on college campuses doing her part to preserve journalism for the next generation, she said. "I tell them journalism is not dead--which is, of course, where Fred Friendly feared we were heading. We have often worried that he was right," she said. "Television news is not always what it could be--but it is still essential and important. The challenges are different now than they were for Fred Friendly. We have access to so much more information, yet so little of it is news."

Hoda Kotb, a host of NBC's "Today," said that she grew up watching Ifill and wanted to be like her. "Gwen is the quintessential journalist," she said. "The Fred Friendly award reminds us of what's important ... The big 'j' in journalism needs to be preserved."

And through the award, Quinnipiac reminds everyone of what really matters, Kotb said.

John L. Lahey, president of Quinnipiac, praised Ifill for her work. "You are truly a giant in the field of journalism," he told her following her brief remarks. "I am pleased to add your name to the list of giants which we honor."

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