Urbino Program remembers Gwen Ifill’s visit

Nov 15, 2016   //   by Steve Anderson   //   Urbino, Italy  //  No Comments
Steve Anderson is the Ruth D. Bridgeforth Professor of Telecommunications in the School of Media Arts & Design at James Madison University. Prior to entering academe, Anderson was an environmental reporter and weathercaster for KCNC television, a network O&O station in Denver, Colorado. His reporting often involved in-depth examination of local and regional environmental issues and an explanation of the science behind them. He also worked as a news photographer, weathercaster and news reporter in other markets. Steve earned his Ph.D. from the University of Denver. He is ieiMedia's Program Director for Urbino, Italy.

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Students and faculty from ieiMedia’s Urbino Program were saddened to hear that PBS newscaster Gwen Ifill died on Monday. She was 61.

Ifill, who broke gender and racial barriers, succumbed to endometrial cancer. Among her many honors was the Urbino Press Award, an Italian prize that is annually awarded to an American reporter or columnist. Ifill visited Urbino in June 2015 to receive that year’s Urbino Press Award at the 500-year-old Ducal Palace. Urbino Program students attended the ceremony and later got to meet her when she spoke to them about the state of journalism and careers in the field.

“Gwen was a real role model for our students,” said Steve Anderson, Urbino Program director. “She addressed controversial issues in the field but left students with an enthusiastic and positive message about their potential future roles as journalists.”

Urbino Program 2015 student Michele Goad, from James Madison University, did a story on the Urbino Press Award called The Italian Pulitzer? “Although Gwen was there to receive a prestigious award, she never made us feel inferior to her,” said Goad, who majors in media arts and design. “This day was all about honoring her, and she found a way to make it more about us (the students). She sat with us in our classroom, told her story and gave advice about working in the media industry. While we should have been star struck, it felt more like talking to a friend. She’s someone I listened to and thought … ‘Wow, what I do really is important and needed in the world.'”

Urbino instructors were also impressed by Ifill’s demeanor and message. “She was so generous, gracious, and open with our students and was such an example of the kind of curious and probing mind good journalists have,” said Susan West, director of the magazine program. “When one student asked what she liked about journalism, she said, ‘I go home every night knowing something I didn’t know before.’”

Ifill had previously worked at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NBC News. In 1999, she became moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week in Review.” In 2013, she became  co-anchor of the “NewsHour.” Ifill and co-anchor Judy Woodruff were the first women to jointly lead a national nightly news broadcast. Ifill also moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates as well as a 2016 Democratic primary debate.

Besides Ifill, past recipients of the Urbino Press Award include Maria Bartiromo, Wolf Blitzer, Sebastian Rotella, Helene Cooper, David Ignatius, Thomas Friedman, Martha Raddatz, Michael Weisskopf and Diane Rehm. The official announcement of the prize is made by the ambassador of Italy to the United States at the Embassy of Italy in Washington. Following the announcement in Washington, the prize is awarded during a ceremony held in the summer at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino.

The award ceremony usually takes place while ieiMedia students are in Urbino. In recent years, our students have also had one-on-one time with Wolf Blitzer of CNN and Sebastian Rotella of The New York Times. 

Gwen Ifill of PBS meets with students and faculty of ieiMedia.

Gwen Ifill, center standing, meets with students and faculty of ieiMedia. (Photo by Dennis Chamberlin)

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Students Say...

First, this month in Urbino can’t be described in a couple of sentences. The past four weeks immersed in Italian culture have helped me to grow both as a journalist and as a person, as an American. Working with interpreters and befriending locals has been the most valuable part of this experience. Memories from Urbino will forever hold a special place in my heart.
by Laura Weeks, James Madison University, Urbino Project 2012