Yamiche Alcindor is a busy woman these days, juggling jobs at NBC News as the network’s Washington correspondent and at PBS as the moderator for the legendary weekly public affairs show Washington Week, which has aired on the public broadcaster Friday nights for more than 50 years.
A longtime contributor, Alcindor was named moderator of Washington Week last May. In the year since, she has tried to balance maintaining the legacy of the show, which she says, “is excellent journalists sitting around a table talking about the biggest news of the day,” with putting her own unique spin on the broadcast.
“I’ve tried to focus also making sure we have the most diverse, most plugged-in journalists in the business,” Alcindor told TVNewser. “I’ve also tried to introduce our viewers to new journalists who they may not know, but who have a lot to say and are leading the way in journalism.”
What viewers may also notice about Alcindor’s version of Washington Week is an increase on single-topic shows.
“I think about the George Floyd special that we did a year after his murder. I said, ‘No matter what else is going on, we’re going to pause and reflect on that,’ said Alcindor. “Also, when the 20th year anniversary of 9/11 happened, I wanted to pause and take time for that single topic, rather than trying to fit in four or five topics. I think that’s something I’ve tried to make different.”
Alcindor also spoke with TVNewser about the legacy of the late Washington Week moderator Gwen Ifill, keeping the show fresh and relevant, as well as juggling multiple roles on multiple outlets, which is something she feels “is a modern way that journalists have really fashioned their lives.”
TVNewser: Among past moderators of Washington Week is the late Gwen Ifill, who you’ve said was a mentor of yours. How has her version of Washington Week influenced what you do on the program?
Alcindor: Gwen’s legacy influences every decision that I make in that I want to ensure this show is the same quality show that Gwen was bringing to people—and the same quality that Robert Costa was bringing to people. I remember Gwen giving me the advice of really owning a space and really owning the skills that I have. For me, that means leaning in on making sure that we’re having the best reporters on those stories. For example, when [Politico reporter] Josh Gerstein broke that huge story about the Supreme Court for Politico, I knew we had to have him on the show. When I look back at the show that Gwen did, she always had the best reporters on. Her 9/11 broadcast was one I’ve gone back and looked at, watching and re-watching it. She had [ABC News chief global correspondent] Martha Raddatz on that broadcast. In my mind, I said, “I want to have Martha Raddatz back for the 20th anniversary,” because she was at the table with Gwen. I want to continue that legacy.
So, part of what her legacy means for me is having on the best reporters in the country who are breaking stories—and not just talking heads who are talking about the news. We’re also making sure to remember that we’re asking the questions of journalists. Questions like, “How did you get the news and how did you feel when you got the news?” When I had Martha around the table for the 20th anniversary, I wanted to ensure I not only talked to her about her professionalism at the time, but also brought up the fact that her husband was in one of the buildings that was hit by the planes. “What did that feel like as a reporter while you’re trying to cover the State Department?” I wanted to make sure that our 20th anniversary rhymed a little with the original Washington Week show when the terrorist attack happened.
Washington Week airs weekly on Friday nights. How do you keep the conversation going and the audience engaged with the Washington Week brand on the other days of the week?
I try to make sure that we’re talking about what’s going on in the news—and making sure that our social media is still tweeting out stories and reminding people of clips that happened on Friday night; literally reminding people about what we talked about on Washington Week.
I think part of the the way that I do that is by reporting during the week. People see my reporting on MSNBC or NBC News. I’m often introduced as “the moderator of Washington Week,” so people can see the person you’ll watch on Friday is also engaged with the best journalists around town throughout the entire week.
I will say that one thing I think is interesting is that when you have a once-weekly show, it’s like putting together a puzzle with 1,000 different pieces—and you’re deciding which pieces you want to pull from. All week long as I’m getting ready for the show and I’m out there reporting and people see me out there reporting, I’m also listening out for sound. I’m listening for smart questions. I’m also interviewing people in Mississippi—and other places when big news is happening—and taking those interactions and making a running list of questions that I want to ask and issues that I want to focus on, on Friday.
Part of it is also making sure that the show really does reflect the week. It’s not just a Friday night show where we talk about Friday night news (although that could easily happen, because there’s so much news happening), but I want to make sure that we are reflective and don’t forget that other things happen throughout the week—and that we should be sort of a summation of what the biggest news stories were.
How do you balance your Washington Week and NBC News jobs?
It’s a sign of the times, right? There are people who are working for MSNBC and Politico, other people that are working for PBS NewsHour and are contributors at NBC News. I think this is a modern way that journalists have really fashioned their lives—that we can be on multiple networks at one time. I think it serves the viewer, because you’re not going to just wait to have to wait to see me on Friday, you’re going see me on MSNBC, or NBC with Lester Holt. For me, it’s about reporting all week. I’m lucky that the job that I’m doing as Washington correspondent for NBC News is directly related to the Washington stories that I’m covering on Friday as [Washington Week] moderator.
For me, it’s constantly being in the news and constantly having a running list of things that I want to talk about, and I want to showcase. It’s also pulling from my own reporting. Sometimes, if I’m questioning the President, I want to play that clip on Washington Week. For example, when the Mississippi [abortion] case happened and the leak happened—and we were covering the story—I was literally driving across the south, first in Alabama, then Mississippi, then Louisiana. I took some of the clips of my interviews—and as I was doing interviews and thinking about where they would go for Nightly News, and MSNBC, I was also in the back of my mind thinking, “Okay, well, that’s a really good clip that we could also use on Washington Week.”
In terms of balancing the shows, on Fridays, I’m still on MSNBC, still in the news, talking to my colleagues—and doing the work on NBC News—and then taking a few hours at the end of the day on Friday in particular to really focus on Washington Week.
Luckily for me, I think this is a job that I love—and it’s a job that has come naturally to me because the work is really spread out over the week.
Outside of the president, who is one public figure you are pushing to have on the program?
I think we’re lucky in that people like to come on PBS, and they find it to be an honor, which is amazing to me. Oprah would be the person that I would want to interview. She’s the reporter’s reporter. She’s the best interviewer in the country—I think—and she is someone who personally inspires me so deeply. She’s not a politics reporter per se, but she obviously has done some big political interviews. So, I think that that’s somebody that I would love to have on Washington Week.
One other thing I’ll say, since you asked me that question, is I’m really touched because I’ve been allowed to bring my experiences and who I am to Washington Week. So for me, that means I was the first moderator to have a reporter directly from Haiti coming internationally onto the show. I really push to have reporters who are on the ground in the places where things are happening. For me, when the assassination of the [Haitian] president happened—and when the border incident happened with Haitian migrants—I wanted to make sure that I was not only getting immigration reporters who are covering the Department of Homeland Security, but that we had great reporters like Jacqueline Charles from the Miami Herald, who I knew was the best reporter on Haiti in the country. I wanted to have her on from Haiti.
I’m also very proud of the fact that as a black woman doing this job, not every show, not every story is going to be about race and about culture, but that I’ve been able to really also dig into those things. We did a whole “Extra” on the Emmett Till lynching act. When after hundreds of years, our country finally said lynching someone because of the color of their skin is a federal crime. That to me is something that I think I’m particularly proud of at Washington Week, that we not only have a diverse cast of reporters, but also the things that that are important to me as a reporter who’s covered civil rights and politics that those things can also make their way on the show.