Spirit of Service Award

Judy Woodruff

An iconic journalist who champions public service, public servants and a more effective government.

A trusted voice in television journalism who helped pave the way for women in media, Judy Woodruff has shined a light on the unsung accomplishments of career civil servants and scrutinized our government’s ability to meet public needs, engaging millions of viewers with powerful stories of public service and demonstrating why effective government is essential to our democracy.  

In an ever-changing media landscape, Woodruff has held firm to journalistic integrity and even-handed, in-depth reporting. For more than 50 years at five major news networks, she has highlighted the shared concerns of everyday people and investigated how our government addresses them. Her steadfast approach continues to hold our public institutions accountable and contribute to our collective knowledge of how government works. 

“Judy Woodruff is indispensable to journalism. She deepens our understanding of the critical issues facing our nation, including the central role that a healthy government plays in our democracy, and continues to set the standard for fact-based, reliable reporting. Her work is vital to a more enlightened and informed public,” said Geoff Bennett, co-anchor of the “PBS NewsHour.” 

Breaking barriers 

Woodruff was hired by a CBS affiliate in Atlanta to cover the Georgia state legislature at just 23 years of age, where she first navigated a male-dominated newsroom culture that at that time often dismissed women as serious reporters.  

A few years later, at NBC News, she joined what was then considered a “boys-on-the-bus” beat of covering presidential campaigns, reporting on Jimmy Carter’s 1976 White House bid and eventually serving as the network’s White House correspondent.   

Her burgeoning career reflected the ascent of a new generation of women in media during the 1970s, including Andrea Mitchell, Lesley Stahl, Rita Braver, Martha Teichner, and Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer and Nina Totenberg, known as the “Founding Mothers” of NPR.  

Woodruff’s incisive coverage and knack for connecting with national audiences catapulted her onto the front lines of major news stories for decades. After stints as a correspondent and substitute anchor for the “PBS NewsHour” in the 1980s and 1990s, she co-anchored CNN’s “Inside Politics” with Bernard Shaw before returning to PBS in 2006, eventually forming the first all-woman anchor team in broadcast history with the late Gwen Ifill in 2013. Three years later, she became the NewsHour’s sole anchor and managing editor.  

“Judy’s credibility, knowledge and thoroughness created a path for an entire generation of women in television journalism, along with women journalists around the world supported by her work as a founder of the International Women’s Media Foundation. In a myriad of ways, Judy has become an icon of selfless service and peerless reporting,” said Andrea Mitchell, the chief foreign affairs correspondent and chief Washington correspondent of NBC News. 

Promoting public service and holding government accountable 

Woodruff has continually used her national platform to promote public servants and hold government accountable.  

During her time in the anchor chair, the NewsHour examined how government shutdowns negatively impact federal employees and hurt the public, spotlighted the public health officials and scientists who worked to contain COVID-19, and explained why the nonpartisan career civil service is critical to our nation.   

Woodruff has also been instrumental in expanding the reach of our Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals® program. Over a two-decade span, she ran several features on the accomplishments of our honorees, and she is the only individual to emcee our gala twice—once in 2002 and once in 2018.  

She also holds public institutions accountable for meeting public needs, demonstrating through tough-but-fair interviews and vivid storytelling how government operations impact our daily lives.  

At the NewsHour, Woodruff pressed agency leaders on veterans’ care and hurricane preparedness, ran features on Senate-confirmed leadership vacancies, assessed the federal management of COVID-19 relief efforts and more.   

One of her proudest moments came much earlier, when she broke a story about racial discrimination in Atlanta’s federally subsidized public housing in the early 1970s.  

“Judy Woodruff is an exceptional reporter who is passionate, honest and intelligent. She cares about good government because she cares about the needs of the people government exists to serve. And she believes in thanking and commending the public servants who devote themselves to furthering the public good,” said Joel Fleishman, a Partnership board member and professor of law and director of the Heyman Center for Ethics, Public Policy and the Professions at Duke University.  

Continuing to leave a legacy 

Woodruff stepped down as NewsHour anchor last year, but her work continues to support the public good and strengthen American civic life.  

Now a senior correspondent at PBS, her latest project, “Judy Woodruff Presents: America at a Crossroads,” is a deep dive into political polarization in America through long conversations with voters, community leaders, scholars, local politicians and others in towns and cities across the country.  

Her ambition is to not only show why these divisions came about, but to also unearth how we as a nation can bridge the divide—a goal that reflects Woodruff’s remarkable public spirit and belief that good journalism is fundamental to the civic lifeblood of a nation.  

“Those of us who care about informing the public don’t have the option of stepping away,” she once said. “We bring an enthusiasm and determination to get the story right and to serve the American people that I can promise you is not going away.”