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First Person

PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill on the presidential race

The newswoman with Boston roots talks about upcoming Republican National Convention.

Don Perdue

“I still think of myself as a print reporter,” says PBS’s Gwen Ifill. “I like the substance of it.”

I wanted to be a journalist since I was 9 years old. I WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL IN SPRINGFIELD and then Simmons College. My first job out of school was at the Boston Herald American. My parents were immigrants; they came to this country with a keen idea of what was happening in current events. We always watched Brinkley. We could see the direct connection between civil rights marches and how they affected our lives.

A lot of people think, WHY BOTHER COVERING THE CONVENTION? I’m curious, not to talk to the politicians or committee chairs, but to [the delegates]. Even though these folks are more engaged than the average person, I want to know what they believe and why. It’s a chance to get out of our bubble and talk to folks who believe there is something at stake.

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I remember the night that SARAH PALIN RECEIVED THE NOMINATION [at the 2008 convention], the excitement on the floor was out of this world. That told us a lot about what she was going to bring. In 2004, WHEN BARACK OBAMA SPOKE at the convention, that was another transformative moment. No one knew who he was, something happened, and even he, walking off the stage, seemed stunned. Four years later, we saw that lightning in the bottle.

I feel like we say every four years [the nation] is AS DIVIDED AS IT’S EVER BEEN — and then it gets more so. People have staked out opposite corners of the ring, and there doesn’t seem to be middle ground. The question is, what is it voters really want of elected officials. Do they want them to fight? IF VOTERS DEMAND MORE MIDDLE GROUND, I think politicians will respond to that.   

— As told to Melissa Schorr. Interview has been edited and condensed.

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