Yamiche Alcindor: Making a Legacy of Her Own

On Friday evenings, Yamiche Alcindor assumes the chair at Washington Week’s roundtable with a mighty responsibility: delivering and contextualizing a week’s worth of news for the nation. Alcindor became the show’s moderator in May, the ninth to helm the renowned PBS program, while retaining her roles as White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour and a political contributor for MSNBC and NBC News. This achievement follows years of political reporting, notably covering the intersection of race and politics, the Trump and Biden administrations, immigration and the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, among other crucial stories.

Now, Alcindor leads a roundtable of award-winning journalists as trust in the news hovers at a historic low and hard truths demand difficult conversations. But Alcindor has already established herself as a journalist par excellence, even and especially when challenges arise. With a book on the horizon and a primetime news program to call her own, Alcindor has the floor. And she’s not backing down.

“We did an entire special on George Floyd, and it told me that I can mold this show and really own this show and tell the country, ‘Here’s what’s important. Here are the issues that we should be focusing on.’ And we’ll take them one show at a time,” said Alcindor.

Alcindor spoke with New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) to talk about how she’s making a legacy of her own and what winning a NYWICI Matrix Award this year means to her.

When you take on a role with so much history, how do you strike a balance between carrying on its legacy and making it your own?

Washington Week has this 54-year history and legacy of being this amazing show that people want to watch and that people feel really connected to every Friday. I want to make sure that I keep that legacy going by being a place where you see the best reporters, hear the best information and really review what we’ve all lived through that week. That being said, I like the idea of making the show fresh for me. That means really focusing it both on power and politics, but also on everyday people’s lives. Making sure the vulnerable people in our society—women and people of color—that their everyday kitchen-table issues are at the center of our conversations.

Before Washington Week you spent six years covering the 2016 campaign and then the White House. What did you learn during that time that you think aspiring political reporters should know?

One of the things that I learned was to really lean into my experiences and lean into the unique view that I bring as a reporter. Covering the White House, in particular, you need to have a really thick skin. So many people got to know me and my work when I was sparring with President Trump. I also sparred with Senator Bernie Sanders, though not to the level of the former president. To be a political journalist, you have to be ready to stand up for your reporting. You have to be ready to push and hold political leaders accountable. You have to be ready not to be scared when a tense moment is playing out for millions and millions of people to watch.

You have a memoir coming out called Don’t Forget. What is something you hope a reader of your book will remember?

I hope that when people read my memoir they won’t forget that they have the confidence and the wherewithal to make it through anything if they can remember who they are and the power that just being you brings. My story is the story of someone who is a descendant of enslaved people who founded a country in Haiti—who were immigrants who came to the United States in the 1970s fleeing dictators—who navigated as a young Black woman, newsrooms where I was told that I wasn’t pretty enough to be on TV or that I didn’t look confident enough to do the stories that I wanted to do. I really hope that when people read my book that they feel so inspired to do whatever they want to do, whether it’s journalism or being a Wall Street banker or a lawyer.

Do you have advice about creating and nourishing mentor-mentee relationships?

Being a mentee really means being respectful of your mentor’s time but also being honest with your mentor about whether or not you’re struggling or if you made a mistake. I’m now at Washington Week in the chair that was helmed by Gwen Ifill, who was a dear mentor to me. I think in some ways, it’s almost like Gwen is continuing this legacy through Washington Week because she trained me and helped me really understand what good journalism looks like. I’m hoping that the show still has some of the same principles and some of the same value that it had when she was in the chair.

What does winning a NYWICI Matrix award mean to you?

Winning a Matrix award really feels like such a blessing because I’m being recognized among a sea of women who have just done amazing work. When I look at the names that are next to me––I’m thinking of Maggie Haberman, Awkwafina, Hoda Kotb––these are people that I look up to. These are people that inform me. These are people that entertain me. These are people that I think are just amazing women. And to think of myself as being in the same category as them—it is just surreal, and it blows my mind. I’m so grateful and so honored to be a Matrix awardee.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Sarah Lynch is a production assistant at NBC New York


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