Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership in Journalism: The Value of Explanation and Analysis

BOND: Do you see your legitimacy as a leader grounded in your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or in your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement?

IFILL: It is — it's articulation. I don’t necessarily think of what I do as leading a movement, though.

BOND: Well, can you think of it as a movement for sober discussion of issues?

IFILL: Or a movement for explaining.

BOND: Yes.

IFILL: Explaining why, why it matters.

BOND: Then you do. You don’t have to be walking down the street with a picket sign.

IFILL: Oh, even though I wouldn’t mind doing that sometimes. I don’t know what I’d be picketing for, but I like the idea of it, the romance of it. No, I do think it’s a matter of being able to be explanatory, and it’s amazing how rare it is to know how to ask a question the right way or to be quick enough on your feet to recognize that you have just learned something and that this is something that needs more expansion on.

The best interviewers, the best people who do this for a living, are people who are at the end of it, curious. They’re leaning in. They’re listening carefully. They’re picking up on things that we haven’t heard before. If you’re bored by your own conversation, people at home are going to be bored, too, so that requires over time, a certain amount of accumulated skill — how do you do that, how do you stay curious, even if you weren’t curious about the issue? I mean, I come to work every day and I’m very likely to get an assignment about something I never previously cared about, but by six o'clock, I have to communicate to the folks at home that this is important and this is why.

BOND: How do you get to care about it? Macedonia, we mentioned earlier on. If you don’t care about Macedonia and you’ve never cared about Macedonia, you don’t know any Macedonians, how do you get interested in that?

IFILL: The reason you don’t care about it is because you don’t know any Macedonians, so you read. You read everything you can about the situation. Almost every subject that rises to the level of being a news story, once you’ve peeled back just the first couple of layers, are fascinating. There are people who are engaged. There’re people who are doing heroic things. There are issues at stake. There is money at stake. At some point, it really affects my life. I may not have cared about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but guess what? A whole lot of people’s mortgages were affected by what happened to that company. Lehman Brothers failed. I didn’t know what Lehman Brothers did, but their collapse had incredible ripple effects. So it’s just re-education every single day, getting to the bottom of it, finding out why it matters.

BOND: Has there ever been a case where you couldn’t find out where it mattered?

IFILL: Yes, there has. I’ll never tell.

BOND: Okay.