Woodruff has worked for several television organizations, including CNN, NBC News, and PBS. She is a board member of the International Women's Media Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Woodruff was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Anna Lee (Payne) Woodruff and U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer William H. Woodruff. She has one sister, Anita. At 17, she won a beauty pageant in Augusta, Georgia, and was crowned Young Miss Augusta 1963. Woodruff graduated from the Academy of Richmond County, then attended Meredith College before transferring to Duke University, where she earned a degree in Political Science.
Woodruff began her career in 1970 as a news anchor at then-CBS affiliate WAGA-TV in Atlanta, Georgia (WAGA-TV is now a Fox affiliate). In 1975, she joined NBC News, and was originally based in Atlanta where she covered the 1976 U.S. Presidential Campaign of then-governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter. She was the Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News (1977–82) and covered Washington for NBC's The Today Show (1982–83).
In 1983, Woodruff moved to PBS, where for 10 years she was chief Washington correspondent for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. She also hosted the PBS documentary series Frontline with Judy Woodruff (1984–90).
In 1993, she joined CNN, where for 12 years she hosted Inside Politics. Woodruff stayed with CNN until 2005, when she decided not to renew her contract, looking toward teaching, writing, and working on documentaries. CNN founder Ted Turner stated in an interview on The Diane Rehm Show on May 7, 2009, that he was upset that CNN had let Woodruff go.
In August 2005, Woodruff was named a visiting fellow for the fall semester at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. She had previously taught a course in media and politics at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.
In 2006, she returned to PBS to work on Generation Next, a documentary about American young people and their characteristics, values, and thoughts on family, faith, politics, and world events—produced in conjunction with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. Generation Next partnered with USA Today, Yahoo! News, and NPR. Also in 2006, Woodruff contributed as a guest correspondent to the National Public Radio (NPR) Morning Edition week-long series "Muslims in America", as part of NPR's fifth-year observance of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
On February 5, 2007, Woodruff returned to PBS on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer full-time as senior correspondent, editor of 2008 political coverage, and substitute anchor. As of early 2007, she was also working on Part 2 of the Generation Next documentary for PBS.
Since 2006, she has also anchored a weekly program, Conversations with Judy Woodruff, for Bloomberg Television. Streaming video podcasts of her monthly interviews are available at Bloomberg.com.
Woodruff was selected to present the 2007 Red Smith Lecture in Journalism at the University of Notre Dame. The Red Smith lectureship annually selects renowned journalists to speak at the university to foster good writing and honor high journalistic standards.
On August 6, 2013, the PBS NewsHour named Woodruff and Gwen Ifill as co-anchors and co-managing editors of the broadcast. They were to share anchor duties Monday through Thursday with Woodruff going it alone on Friday.
Woodruff has written several books, including This Is Judy Woodruff at the White House (1982) and The Theodore H. White lecture with Judy Woodruff
She is a founding co-chairperson of the International Women's Media Foundation. She serves on the boards of trustees of the Freedom Forum and of the Freedom Forum's Newseum and is a member of the steering committee of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. She sits on the advisory board for America Abroad Media, a nonprofit organization which produces the America Abroad radio show. In 2013, Woodruff, along with PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill, received an award from the Women’s Media Center.
Woodruff is married to Al Hunt, formerly of CNN and The Wall Street Journal, now an executive editor of the Washington, D.C., bureau of Bloomberg News. They have three children.