Veteran journalist Judy Woodruff has been around the political block a few times, having covered the topic nationally since 1976.Â
So what does she think of politics these days?
“It’s a blood sport,” Woodruff told a crowd at the Montana State University Billings Petro Theater Monday night. “It’s mean-spirited.”
Political divisions are nothing new, she said, but relationships between Republicans and Democrats in Washinton, D.C. have dwindled.Â
“Today, you don’t see them together, they don’t know each other. They come in on Monday and you leave on Thursday.”
Politics is what Woodruff has covered for most of her career in television news, from NBC to CNN to her current post as the anchor of PBS NewsHour.
She’s widely recognized as a pioneer for women in journalism, especially in television, and has won prestigious awards throughout her career.
Her talk Monday, which was organized by the Billings Public Library Foundation, examined journalistic topics from her own roots in the business to trends changing the media landscape today.Â
She recalled a childhood as a “military brat,” moving to a new state almost every year and having stops in Germany and Taiwan.Â
“It absolutely made me more interested in the world,” she said.Â
But journalism wasn’t a natural fit at first. When Woodruff graduated from high school in the 1960s, she looked at jobs women held and saw mostly teachers, nurses and secretaries.Â
In news, “there weren’t that many role models,” she said.Â
Woodruff celebrated progress that’s been made in increasing the amount of women working in on-air positions in journalism, but said there’s still room for improvement.Â
“We still need to see more women in management, making decisions,” she said.Â Â
Woodruff tried out math and political science in college before settling on journalism.Â
“I felt journalism was a way I could help people understand what was going on around them,” she said.Â
Brian Kahn, a Yellowstone Public Radio program host, asked Woodruff about an informed voting populous.
“Obviously that was a key concept for the founders of this country,” he said. “How are we doing on that?”Â
Woodruff said that there are more opportunities than ever to stay informed, and that those are reaching “many people.”
“Do I wish were were reaching more? Absolutely,” she said.Â
She also noted that today’s news cycle “is really no news cycle anymore. New is coming constantly… There’s just so many things in people’s lives, they don’t have time to follow the new all day long.”
Woodruff’s program, NewsHour, has been praised for serving as a foil to that idea and providing a more thoughtful approach to hot button issues.Â
She admitted that such an approach isn’t always at the forefront of ratings-driven news, where ideas like monetary policy seem dull.Â
“Some of these things can get in the weeds,” she said. “But you know what, they matter… We think that’s our obligation.”
To that end, she said that sometimes news networks get their focus wrong.Â
“As long as I’ve been in Washington, I think the president’s been over-covered,” she said. “We don’t do enough coverage of the agencies,” like veterans affairs.
Above all, she emphasized the importance of continuing to learn.Â
“I don’t ever want to get to a place where I feel like I’ve got it figured out,” she said. “I want to wake up every morning feeling like I should be listening.”