Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff & Jim Lehrer on ‘Core Values,’ New ‘Faces’ at PBS NewsHour

By Alissa Krinsky 

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WoodruffIfill“It’s kind of a dream come true,” Judy Woodruff tells TVNewser about the job she started last September.  “I pinch myself every day to believe that I am co-anchoring the [PBS] NewsHour.”

One year after her debut as half of the program’s new anchor team, Woodruff’s appreciation for the position is matched by that of her friend and co-anchor, Gwen Ifill.

“I got the great chance to be a caretaker” of an iconic show, says Ifill.

The veteran journalists made history when, on September 9, 2013, they became the first women to co-anchor a nightly network newscast.

“No matter where I go around the country,” Woodruff says, “people come up, and they just say how excited they are, how thrilled they are” about the groundbreaking team.

Noteworthy as it may be, the NewsHour‘s co-founder, Jim Lehrer, tells TVNewser that Ifill and Woodruff got the nod simply for being the “logical and best combination” for the job.

Calling the duo “terrific,” he says he’s delighted with a transition that was more than two years in the making.

MacNeil-LehrerIt was in 1975 that the newscast began as The Robert MacNeil Report, eventually becoming The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, and, later, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.

MacNeil retired from the anchor chair in 1995.  When Lehrer decided to step down from anchoring years later, a rotating crew of colleagues filled in.  Eventually, Lehrer and MacNeil, along with longtime Executive Producer Linda Winslow and others, selected Ifill and Woodruff to take the program into the future.

Today, Lehrer says the program “has stayed the same, in the ways that matter the most to me and to Robert MacNeil. The core values, the core journalistic values that some people call the ‘MacNeil-Lehrer Values’, are still there.”

Ifill agrees: “Judy and I are the faces,” she says, but “the show is still the brand.”

A brand adapting to meet the public’s seemingly endless thirst for round-the-clock information.  PBS NewsHour Weekend now airs on Saturday and Sunday. In addition, there’s a real focus on the program’s digital presence, resulting in what Ifill says is “innovative and interesting” storytelling .

The show also is welcoming a new Executive Producer, Sara Just, whom Woodruff says will bring “her own approach” to the broadcast.

And so while both of the show’s anchors want “very much to preserve what we think is a unique and special product,” Ifill explains, “you either change or you die, right?”

Observing it all with great interest is Lehrer, 80, who – along with his good friend MacNeil, 83, – serves as an advisor to the program.  Since WETA assumed ownership of the program from MacNeil/Lehrer Productions earlier this summer, Lehrer says he’s “very much at ease, and very much at peace, that I am no longer involved, and no longer responsible” for the management of the program.

He remains, however, a loyal viewer, watching the NewsHour every day.  “I can’t resist. It’s a bit like watching your children grow up, it’s that personal, no question about it.”

And Lehrer remains steadfast in his belief that, despite a changing media landscape – a “tsunami of stuff,” he calls it – the show is “more relevant now than it’s ever been” as a “curator” of all that is making news.

It’s a view shared by his successors.

“There’s never been more of a need than there is today,” Woodruff reflects, “for the kind of reporting that we’re doing. Longer-form interviews, drilling in on the stories that matter, I think there’s always going to be a need for that, and more than ever today, given the world that we live in.”