PBS Adds ‘Flash’  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   August/September 2003

PBS Adds ‘Flash’   

Gwen Ifill and Bryant Gumbel to traverse the country in search of "flashpoints" for their newest venture.

By Dan Wilcock
Dan Wilcock is a former AJR editorial assistant.     


Though she'll be spending more time than ever at work, with her newest show on PBS, Gwen Ifill will at least be able to leave her desk--make that desks.

Ifill already sits behind two desks at WETA headquarters. From one she hosts "Washington Week," PBS' Friday forum of Washington journalists; she reports from another at "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." But for "Flashpoints USA," a new quarterly public affairs series, she'll be on the road, leaving those desks behind.

Ifill and cohost Bryant Gumbel will traverse the country in search of "flashpoints,"--issues facing one community that are microcosms for the nation. " 'Flashpoints' is taking a long look at a single subject from a lot of different approaches," Ifill says.

The first episode, which aired in July, finds its "flashpoint" at Detroit Metro Airport, where Ifill and Gumbel tap travelers for their thoughts on post-9/11 security issues. Gumbel asks a blonde woman if she agrees with ethnic profiling. "I tend to agree with it," she says. Gumbel's retort: "Would you agree with it if they were singling out 5-9 blondes?"

That episode deals with the tension between freedom and security, the effects of the Patriot Act and everyday inconveniences posed by new security measures. Ifill travels to Evansville, Indiana, where she interviews Tarek Albasti and his wife Carolyn Baugh. Albasti was one of eight Egyptian natives held for a week by U.S. officials after they learned that he had taken flying lessons--a gift from Albasti's father-in-law.

For Ifill, a multiple-perspective approach provides viewers with a more holistic understanding of an issue. "It's like a tossed salad. You put all these different elements in, but at the end you have this whole," she says.

Gumbel, who cohosted NBC's "Today" for 15 years and now anchors HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," was not available for comment. Gumbel, says Ifill, brings "experience, credibility, smarts [and] charm," to the show--"the same things I bring."

By reporting from flashpoints, Ifill hopes to create an active rather than passive viewing experience. "We want to engage viewers in a way that brings it home to them," she says. The second episode attempts to find answers to the eternal question: Can we believe the media?

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