When Linsey Davis arrived at the University in 1995, a journalism career wasn’t exactly on her mind. The award-winning ABC News anchor thought she wanted to be a psychologist and focused her studies on human behavior and how people think. Two and a half decades later, she moderated two of the 2020 election’s Democratic presidential debates in front of a live, national audience.
“I don't think I ever had to study that hard at U.Va.,” Davis remarked in an interview with The Cavalier Daily about preparing for the debates.
On Feb. 1, ABC News named Davis as anchor of its Sunday broadcasts of “World News Tonight” — the most-watched evening-news broadcast in the nation. A two-time Emmy Award winner, Davis is also an anchor for ABC News “Live Prime,” the network’s first-ever streaming evening newscast.
It’s no secret that the University has produced many notable journalists and media executives in the last half century, despite not having a journalism school. From Katie Couric to Margaret Brennan, the University has prepared many for working in the media.
“Any good institution worth its salt is going to help provoke their students to be curious and to question and to wonder,” Davis said. “I would say that all of that — my curiosity and just wanting to kind of question certain things — was nurtured while I was on Grounds.”
Instead of taking courses on reporting, Davis learned about psychology, astrology and African American studies while at the University — even taking a course with the late Professor Julian Bond, one of the nation's preeminent civil rights leaders. It wasn’t until she studied abroad in London and took a few journalism courses late in her undergraduate career that she decided to pursue journalism.
“I didn't have a change in heart until it was late,” Davis said. “But I will say that psychology degree was not for not — I mean, you can certainly use that in any, in probably most, career paths, and just understanding how people work and just like the human behavior behind it all.”
Since the University lacked a communications department at the time, she had to enroll in a graduate program elsewhere — landing at New York University.
After obtaining a master’s degree in communications, Davis worked as a reporter and anchor at local television stations in Syracuse, N.Y., Flint, Mich. and Indianapolis, Ind. She joined ABC News in 2007 as a New York-based correspondent and made waves in 2009 with a special “Nightline” report examining why African American women are the least likely of any race or gender to get married.
Davis has since conducted interviews with major influential figures and politicians including Secretary Hillary Clinton, Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Myon Burrell, a Minneapolis inmate who said he was wrongfully convicted for murder in part because of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was the chief prosecutor in the case.
Last summer, as protests against police brutality were growing following George Floyd’s death, Davis led a roundtable discussion with Black female mayors and also anchored a documentary on the issue of domestic terrorism and hate-inspired violence in the U.S. As a Black female anchor, Davis wants to use her platform to talk about the issues facing her own community — even if those conversations are uncomfortable.
“I'm not afraid to tackle it and confront the issues and the facts,” Davis said. “Sometimes we don't have these conversations because people are so worried about how we address it or how we talk about it. I do think that there's a certain relevance that I'm able to bring to the table when I know that perspective of Black and Brown people in this community — I live it, and it's my own personal experience.”
However, she added that all Americans — not just Black and Brown people — should be starting conversations about racial issues.
Davis was also at the forefront of ABC News’ coverage of the 2020 presidential election, co-anchoring major political events such as two presidential debates, the vice presidential debate, presidential election coverage and Inauguration Day.
“It was intense,” Davis said. “I had two huge, three-ring binders with 200 pages or more. [I spent time] just going through and talking about policy, talking about the economy, talking about climate change, whatever it might be so that I could really get a grasp and an understanding for the questions that I was going to be asking.”
ABC News President James Goldston commended her skills as a journalist in a note to staff last week, saying that viewership of her streaming primetime newscast surged by over 200 percent in the last year.
“Linsey has had an impressive rise at ABC News as a result of her unflinching interview prowess, her versatility and experience,” Goldston said. “Her presidential debate moderating performance was nothing short of commanding.”
Outside of journalism, Davis is a best-selling author of three children’s books, including one coming out this month — which she described as a “love letter to our children.” She is also a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and vividly remembers walking down the Lawn and Rugby Road — and eating at Bodo’s Bagels — as a University student.
“It continues to be the best decision I ever made in life,” Davis said. “I loved U.Va. and really would attribute a lot of who I am to my four years there.”
Davis will continue to anchor “Live Prime” Monday through Thursday in addition to being the new co-anchor of “World News Tonight” on Sundays.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that Davis anchors “Live Prime” Monday through Friday and that she moderated the presidential debates 14 years after arriving on Grounds. This article has been updated to reflect that she anchors “Live Prime” Monday through Thursday and that she moderated the debate 2.5 decades after coming to Grounds.