20 Questions

This week, 20Questions profiles newswoman Judy Woodruff. Her documentary, “Generation Next: Speak Up. Be Heard,” in which she travels to 17 states and 29 cities to learn about today’s youth, airs Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. on PBS.

What do you think this generation has to offer?

They have grown up at a time of phenomenal technological change. They are the most diverse generation in American history; they are the best-educated generation in American history. You put that all together and they will accomplish things I don’t think we can even imagine today.

They are diverse racially, sexually, and career-wise — doesn’t this go against today’s politician? Many believe American politics is not speaking to them and not solving the problems they think are most important. Many have been turned off by today’s politics. They don’t think today’s politics addresses many of the problems they see.

What surprised you most in this documentary?

After visiting 17 states and 29 cities and interviewing a total of 500 young people, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but how thoughtful they are and how much more they are aware of the world around them than they’ve been given credit for.

Did you sleep in the RV?

No, I didn’t. It had a very comfortable bed in the back, but no. We stayed in different motels and hotels around the country. There were too many of us to stay in the RV.

What do you think politicians need to understand about young people today?

Young people want to be listened to. They feel that they are  … ignored by public officials, that they are not taken seriously. They want to be part of the discussion.

One young man said, “My job doesn’t define who I am.” Did this surprise you?  I think it says there’s something they’ve seen about my generation that they didn’t like.

Such as?

Maybe they had too many workaholic, baby-boomer parents. Maybe they looked at the companies who laid off their employees. They look at that work environment and say, “I’m not going to trust an employer like you guys had.”

Do you miss working alongside Wolf Blitzer?

I adore Wolf. I think he’s one of the best in the business and I still watch him.

Do you watch CNN more than the others?

I watch all the channels. I watch CNN, Fox, MSNBC. In addition I’ve also been named a special correspondent of the “News Hour with Jim Lehrer.”

I’m such a news junkie. I have NPR radio on when I first wake up. 

What was life like for you in your 20s?

It was fun and it was work. I became a reporter at age 23 covering the Georgia state legislature at a local CBS affiliate. I was young and living in Atlanta and enjoyed life and fell even deeper in love with news and politics. I got hired at NBC when I was 28.

Where did you grow up?

All over the world. I was born in Tulsa, Okla. I was an Army brat. I lived in Germany, Taiwan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia.

What kind of gadgetry do you have?

I have a BlackBerry that doubles as my cell phone. I also have a separate cell phone. I have an MP3 player that I’m still trying to figure out how it works, and a laptop I carry around.

Where did you go to college?


What was your first job out of college?

I was a secretary in the news department of the ABC television affiliate in Atlanta. I got to watch the reporters do their work.

Did you enjoy road-tripping for this documentary?

I loved it. I had so much fun. I did not want the year to end.

Who are role models for today’s youth?

The most frequently named person was a parent or a family member. After that, it would be Oprah or Bill Gates or Bono and then some would mention politicians.

Are you surprised Generation Next isn’t so enthralled with politicians?

They were less enthralled even than I expected. I had reason to believe they were disenchanted with American politics. What surprised me was how widespread this view was. They didn’t feel politics was authentic and didn’t reflect their concerns. [It was] a fairly sweeping indictment of our modern political environment.

As a mother of three, ages 16-25, did this documentary make you better understand your children?

It does make me feel I have a slightly better understanding of the generation and yet, when it’s your own family, all bets are off. They clarified terminology I wasn’t familiar with. One was “word.” I hadn’t heard it meaning “true.” Word to your mother. 

Do you think the country is ready for a female president?

The country has long been ready for a female president. There’s no reason why not, when we look around the world and see women leading other great countries. It’s just not a big deal, but it has taken longer in this country.

What’s next?

We tentatively are talking to PBS about a sequel. We had so much fabulous material.


To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or e-mail her at betsyr@thehill.com.