Judy Woodruff - PBS Newshour

Judy Woodruff, T ’68 Co-Anchor and Managing Editor of PBS Newshour

Q:  When did you attend Duke?  

I attended Duke from Fall 1966 until Spring 1968, when I graduated with a BA.  (I transferred from Meredith College in Raleigh, where I had started with a Math major, but switched to Political Science.)

Q:  Did you major/minor in anything other than Political Science?  

Ultimately, no.

Q:  Why study Political Science? 

I was fascinated with how people come together to make decisions that affect the larger community; how competing ideas and agendas are thrashed out and resolved; what motivates people to enter the political arena, and with trying to understand what makes some people successful in politics and others not.

Q:  Who influenced you the most?  

What faculty member influenced you the most? There were two at Meredith: Dr. Carolyn Happer, who taught political  science; and Dr. Ione Knight, who taught English. At Duke – it was Dr. David Paletz and Dr. Alan Kornberg, both in political science. All had an infectious love of what they taught; even with their very different teaching styles, I was captivated.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time at Duke? 

Joining other protesters in the sit-in on the West Campus quad in the spring of 1968, in support of Duke’s non-academic employees, who were pushing for higher wages and unionization. This was in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., that April.

Q: What aspects of your education at Duke have you found most important after graduating?

There’s no doubt that the academic rigor I experienced at Duke was an important foundation for my love of learning in the decades since graduation.  (And I can thank individual classes like mass communication and politics, the history of India and the Congo’s Civil War!) But equally important have been the connections I made – with other students, faculty and administrators – that have provided some of the vital building blocks of my personal life and my professional career.

Q: How do you think your experiences at Duke got you involved in what you are currently doing?  

In 1967, the summer before my senior year, I was working in Washington as an intern for my Congressman. As the summer wound to a close – my second summer in a row working on Capitol Hill – women who’d graduated from college and had more experience than I, advised me NOT to head to D.C. right after graduation. They discouraged me from starting out in a city and a field where women were, in their view, not welcome. I returned to Duke that fall, confused and at a loss about how to pursue my interest in politics and government somewhere other than Washington.  I sought out Professor Paletz and Kornberg for advice;  they encouraged me to think about “covering” politics as a journalist, something I’d never given thought to. But it was just the right suggestion: a lightbulb went off in my head, as I started to think about how I could explore a career in news, then turn back to government and politics in a few years. I decided to apply for an entry level job in TV news – since I didn’t have the credentials to work for a newspaper (no clippings/no experience.)  I was hired as the newsroom secretary by the then- ABC TV affiliate in Atlanta; went to work right after graduation. That was the start; I quickly fell in love with what I saw reporters doing, and never considered turning to government & politics for a career again.

Q: What advice do you have for current Duke students pursuing a political science degree? 

We need you!  The problems we face at the local, state, national and international levels are harder and more complex than ever – and we need the best and the brightest to jump into working in government, politics, and policy, to help solve them.  Don’t be discouraged by the gridlock and polarization you see in Washington and elsewhere; the stakes are too high for us to give up trying to make things better. We owe at least this much to our children and grandchildren, and those who come along after.

Q: What outside interests do you have?  

The truth is, working in news is an all-consuming career. We’re always on duty in a sense. But besides my work, which I love and feel so fortunate to still be doing, my first priority is my family – my husband and three children.  And when I have time, I love to read, travel and go skiing. One of these days, when I have more time, I plan to go to the theatre more, study history and write a book or two.