After CNN, Woodruff Keeps Eye on Media Diversity

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Judy Woodruff

(WOMENSENEWS)–After three decades interviewing policymakers and political wonks, Judy Woodruff is not about to take a break.

The former White House correspondent and anchor is embarking on a new phase in her post-CNN career, with a Harvard fellowship and travels around the nation.

She will also continue to promote the International Women’s Media Foundation, which holds its annual event to honor courageous female journalists from around the world in a New York ceremony on Oct. 25 and in Los Angeles on
Nov. 2.

In 1990 Woodruff, along with broadcaster Susan King–now of the Carnegie Corporation of New York–started the foundation, based in Washington, D.C., to support female journalists and help them move into leadership positions.

“We decided to focus on women because no one was singling them out,” said Woodruff, who said the press needs to be strengthened in countries where democracy may be taking a foothold.

Her colleagues at the organization say Woodruff has been a tremendous asset, making possible a fellowship in her name and promoting the interests of female journalists from Nigeria to Colombia.

“She is generous with her time,” said Eleanor Clift, co-chair of the foundation and a contributing editor at Newsweek. She calls Woodruff a “class act.”

Doors Open, But Shortage Persists

Over the years, Woodruff has seen doors open for women in the business, but notes an ongoing shortage of women and minorities in the newsroom and in management.

“Every news organization should ideally be as broadly representative as possible,” said Woodruff, noting that any shortfall means that some stories, such as poverty and domestic violence, are not getting as much attention as they otherwise would.

“We would do a better job covering society to the extent that we look like society,” Woodruff said.

As a mother of three–Jeffrey, 23; Ben, 18; and Lauren, 16–Woodruff knows that women with children must often make sacrifices to keep their careers moving along.

“There have been trade-offs every day, every month, every year,” said Woodruff, who is married to Al Hunt, Washington executive editor for Bloomberg News and a former panelist and host for CNN. “There’s a lot that I missed and I do have regrets in that area. But I do know that I have been able to bring to my family the richness of being a journalist.”

Left Network in June

Woodruff, 58, the former anchor of CNN’s now canceled “Inside Politics,” left the network in June after deciding that the time had come to switch gears. She is now planning to look at politics from a new angle, particularly from the perspective of women and young people.

With support from the Pew Charitable Trust, Woodruff will head back into the field this fall to interview young people between the ages of 16 and 25, taking their pulse on everything from personal values to globalization. The interviews will form the basis of a book as well as reports for television, the Internet and the print media.

“This is truly an attempt to understand where young people are coming from today,” she said, sounding a bit bemused while pondering what it’s like to grow up in the age of cell phones and music downloads. “I think it’s fascinating where this generation is coming from.”

Woodruff’s fellowship at Harvard University, with the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, is also designed to take a piercing look at the issues that journalists cover and how students view them. Among those she hopes to explore include how news organizations operate in a climate of decreasing resources, the role of women in the news business and how the recent controversy over journalistic sourcing methods will affect the profession.

Judith Miller’s Jail Time Raises Questions

Woodruff said there was much to hash out after New York Times reporter Judith Miller was sent to jail this summer.

Miller was released on Sept. 29 after, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby personally gave her his permission to speak to prosecutors investigating how the identity of an undercover CIA agent made it into the press. Miller had been protecting Libby’s identity as a source of confidential information.

“It’s always unfortunate when a reporter is sent behind bars for failing to turn over sources,” said Woodruff. “There’s no way to say what the long-term outcome will be.”

Edie Holway, the fellows and programs administrator for the Shorenstein Center said Woodruff would bring a great depth of experience to the classroom.

“She’s a hard-working, earnest and terrific journalist with an important perspective,” Holway said.

From Army Brat to Star Journalist

An Army brat who was crowned Young Miss Augusta in 1963, Woodruff graduated from Duke University and started out as a secretary in the late 1960s at the ABC affiliate in Atlanta. She faced rampant sexism when she tried to land a job as a reporter. In her 1982 autobiography, “This is Judy Woodruff at the White House,” she notes that news directors around the country often told her: “We’re not looking for a woman. We’re looking for a reporter.”

Eventually, she did break into the business and was hired in 1970 at the CBS affiliate in Atlanta. From there, she began a meteoric rise that took her through stints as White House correspondent for NBC and PBS as well as CNN. She has covered every presidential election since Jimmy Carter and has moderated a number of vice-presidential and presidential debates.

In this next stage of her career, she hopes to promote causes close to her heart, including raising money for research into spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord that afflicts her eldest son.

So, with everything she has going on, is Woodruff done covering politics?

Not exactly. Congressional races are just around the corner in 2006 and the 2008 presidential contest is not far behind. Woodruff, who remains under contract with CNN as a contributor and consultant, is keeping the door open for a return to political coverage.

“Politics is in my blood,” she said. “I’d love to be involved in 2008, maybe even ’06.”

Jennifer Friedlin is a writer based in New York.

For more information:

International Women’s Media Foundation:
http://www.iwmf.org

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