The Guilford College Bryan Series wraps up its season on Tuesday, April 9, with an appearance by longtime broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff. Woodruff broke into the highly male-dominated news industry in the 1970s and would go on to become a national news reporter, editor and anchor. 

She also has ties to North Carolina, from visiting her grandparents in Roanoke Rapids as a child, to returning as a student at both Meredith College and Duke University. WFDD’s Paul Garber spoke with Woodruff about her upcoming appearance in Greensboro. She says she plans to expound on her PBS series America at a Crossroads, which looks at the political and cultural divide in the country.

Interview highlights

On what she plans to talk about during her Bryan Series appearance:

"I've been traveling around the country talking to ordinary Americans, talking to community leaders and scholars and academics, trying to understand this, trying to understand what people think about it, what they think about people across the political spectrum. It's been fascinating. And the Bryan Series organizers asked if I would expand on that."

On what she'd like people to know about covering politics in this day and age and what can be learned from past coverage:

"I've never seen us in a situation where we are. We are covering candidates who say things that have to be fact checked. And have to be. It's not that politicians haven't always polished their own resume made it better on the you know, to represent themselves. That comes with American politics. But what's different today is, I think, the fact that politicians are making statements that have to be fact checked from top to bottom. And how do reporters address that? Do you put a disclaimer? Do you challenge the candidate with every statement? And how do you do that when the candidates are not making themselves available? That's another phenomenon of today's politics, as more and more candidates are saying 'I don't want to talk to the media. I don't want to answer questions, except I'll talk to those reporters who I think are friendly to me.'"

My approach is that we ought to be right down the middle. It's certainly been the approach of PBS NewsHour, it's been my approach over all my years to represent not just both sides, but all sides; ask tough questions of everybody, hold all these public figures and candidates for office accountable, ask them to explain their record, talk to them about what they believe, and try to get them to to explain their positions. That's what our job is, so that the voters can better understand the choice that they're having to make. 

On what role, if any, journalism has in healing the country's divide:

"Well, I think the role — the principal role of journalism, news media, in this country, and frankly, around the world — is to report on what is happening that is of importance to the American people to the public. Whether they're in power in government, or in power in business, or the church or wherever they're in power. Hold them accountable, because they are making decisions that affect the lives of all of us. That's the principal role of journalism. So I don't think we have a main role to try to heal our divide. But I do think we have a responsibility to try to understand it, which is what my reporting series America at a Crossroads is all about. I'm trying to understand what's going on, to hear from the American people themselves. And to the extent there are efforts are successful or not to bring people together. I want to report on those so that people can hear about that.

I will say this — and I'm proud to say — I believe in democracy. I said a moment ago, 'It's all about just the facts.' It is about the facts. But I also will say, very proudly, I'm an American citizen. I vote. I believe in our system of government. And to the extent this division undermines our democracy, that is of great concern. 

Editor's Note: This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.

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