Remembering Lawrence Dana Pinkham

Lawrence Dana Pinkham is remembered by several generations of students both in the United States and abroad as an inspirational professor of journalism.  He taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and in China and India where he helped establish English-language journalism programs at major academic institutions.

While at the University of Massachusetts, Pinkham also helped the International Programs Office establish the first academic exchanges in the United States with China following its opening up in the late 1970s.

A graduate of the University of Maine and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Pinkham worked as a reporter for the Providence Journal, the Wall Street Journal and United Press before joining the Columbia journalism faculty in 1956. He remained at Columbia for 16 years, teaching print and broadcast journalism and creating new programs that aimed at updating the school's traditional curriculum. Greg Jackson, a 1966 Columbia graduate who would become a network correspondent and producer, remembered Pinkham as the driving force behind the journalism school's first classes in television news production.

“It was his vision and his enthusiasm that gave us the confidence to go almost directly from the school halls into the networks and big city news desks," Jackson said. "He leaves behind hundreds of working journalists as his legacy. He was the gold standard."

Pinkham also introduced a course in documentary filmmaking, as recalled by another 1966 graduate, Ralph Arlyck, whose documentary films have aired on PBS and the BBC and at international film festivals. "Larry Pinkham was chiefly responsible for setting me on the path I followed over the next 40 years," said Arlyck. "In the mid-60s at Columbia Journalism, Larry was immersing himself in the New Wave and Cinema Verite. I was immediately infected by the virus of his excitement."

During his time at Columbia, Pinkham also served as a member of the board of advisory editors and a writer for the Columbia Journalism Review, which is published by the school, and on the board of editors of the quarterly Columbia University Forum.

He was the first academic to present on television adult education programs on journalism, appearing as an on-air host and lecturer for series on ABC-TV and NBC-TV.  In addition, he was a member of the editorial advisory board of the PBS "Frontline" series and of the board of directors of WBAI-FM, the listener-sponsored radio station in New York.

During the student demonstrations against the Vietnam war and university governance in 1968, Pinkham joined with other Columbia faculty members in an attempt to protect the demonstrators from police violence. The attempt failed, and in protest Pinkham resigned from his position as director of the journalism school's broadcasting program.

Four years later, when Pinkham was teaching a class in investigative journalism, some of the students asked if they might take the Journalism School itself as a subject of investigation. Pinkham approved the project. But according to James Boylan, author of the history "Pulitzer's School," the dean was unhappy with the report produced by the students and told Pinkham, then an associate professor, that he would never be promoted.

That same year of 1972 Pinkham left Columbia for the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he served as chair of the institution's new journalism program from 1976 to 1981. He said that he welcomed the opportunity to teach undergraduate students, many of whom were, like himself, the first in their families to attend college.

Pinkham was raised by working-class grandparents in Bangor, Maine, during the Great Depression. It was only after having enlisted in the Navy during World War II that, thanks to the GI Bill, he was able to attend college. In New York, he was introduced to progressive political ideas and came to understand that the social injustice he had witnessed first hand while growing up was inherent in the capitalist system.

Many students admired Pinkham's innovative and principled approach to journalism education. Clay Steinman, who became a professor himself, wrote: "He was also a model for me as a professor, and I sometimes thought of him when it was time for me to decide to take a stand at the schools where I worked."

In his 19 years on the Massachusetts faculty, Pinkham divided his time between Amherst and China. During a sabbatical year in 1979, shortly after the resumption of relations between China and the United States, he was invited to teach journalism in Beijing as a visiting professor at the Graduate Institute of Journalism, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. According to his wife, Joan Pinkham, of Amherst, he was delighted with the invitation not only because it would be a fascinating experience but because it would be an opportunity to see, and to be a part of, an experiment in building a socialist society.

Pinkham returned to teach in China several times, for a total of eight years: as an exchange professor representing the University of Massachusetts at the Central Translation Bureau in Beijing; as a visiting professor, then Fulbright Lecturer at Beijing Foreign Studies University; and finally, following his retirement from the University of Massachusetts, from 1991 to 1993 as a Fulbright Lecturer at the China School of Journalism. Many of his Chinese students would go on to play key roles in China's modernization through their influential positions in media, business and academia.

In 2001, Pinkham accepted an invitation to help develop another budding journalism program, this one in India. From 2001 to 2003 he served as distinguished visiting professor and dean of the newly founded Asian College of Journalism in Chennai (formerly Madras).

There, as in China, he won the respect and affection of colleagues as   well as students.  In the words of Sashi Kumar, one of the founders of   the College, "Larry was a consummate teacher, a warm, gentle and   assuring presence in our midst [during] those two crucial and formative 'Pinkham years' . . . .  In the short time he was with us, he breathed fresh life into our academic programme and set it on a sound footing." 

Pinkham died on February 28, 2010.  He was 83 years old.

Written by Sara Grimes, Columbia Journalism '66, and a former chair of the Journalism Program at the University of Massachusetts with help from Jim Boylan, Columbia Journalism '51,  and a former chair of the Journalism Program at the University of Massachusetts, and Joan Pinkham

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