Skip to main content

Larry Kirkman

Professor School of Communication

Additional Positions at AU

Larry Kirkman is a Professor of Film and Media Arts in the School of Communication at American University. He teaches courses on social documentary and the history of cinematic arts for MA/MFA filmmakers and serves as head of the MFA Concentration in Political, Cultural and Social Impact. As dean of the School of Communication, 2001-2012, he directed and developed programs in Journalism, Film and Media Arts, Strategic Communication, Political Communication, Communication Studies, and International Media. He helped establish centers for innovation in public service media, including Investigative Reporting Workshop, Center for Media and Social Impact and Center for Environmental Filmmaking, and created programs with a wide-range of media partners, including The Washington Post, USA Today, NBC, Sony, Smithsonian and New America Media. His work in media for public knowledge and action has included public television documentaries and social advertising campaigns -- Connect for Kids with the Advertising Council, which received $300 million in donated media, and Union Yes for the AFL-CIO. He chaired, produced the American Film Institute's National Video Festival and Benton Foundation’s International Advocacy Video Conference, and co-edited a series of media guides, "Strategic Communications for Nonprofits."


MAT, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University; BA, Columbia College, Columbia University in the City of New York

Download Resume (PDF)

SOC - School of Communication
McKinley - 239
Monday 4:00-5:00
Wednesday 2:00-4:00
Thursday 4:00-5:00
Contact Info
(202) 885-6931 (Office)

Send email to Larry Kirkman

For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.
See Also
2012 Commencement
Article for "NGOs and the News" at Nieman Journalism Lab
"Strategic Communications for Nonprofits", Introduction
Strategic Media Making & Impact Producing


Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Executive Experience

Executive Director, Benton Foundation, 1989-2001

Under Kirkman's direction the Benton Foundation became a trusted guide in the emerging digital communications environment, an architect of a public interest vision for the information age, and a leading nonprofit Internet publisher.

Kirkman led Benton as a grantmaker and grantseeker, media producer, communications policy analyst and technology developer, working in three interdependent areas:

  • Defining and promoting public policies to support the public interest services and capacities of the new media -- through research, publishing and convening;
  • Helping nonprofit organizations use communications, to be online information providers and social advocates, and to be partners with broadcasters -- with tools, best practices, training, evaluation, networks, and resources; and
  • Creating knowledge networks on the Internet, trusted sources of information, and links to action, as testbeds for new forms of journalism, social interaction, and education.

Executive Director, Labor Institute of Public Affairs , AFL-CIO, 1982-1989

As the founding executive director of LIPA, Kirkman brought the AFL-CIO into the information age, responsible for the first national advertising campaigns, public TV programs, electronic conventions, and national videoconferences.

He was responsible for the Union Yes national advertising campaign, with a launch budget of $15 million for television, radio, print and outdoor advertising, featuring Jack Lemmon, Tyne Daley and Edward Olmos, along with ordinary workers, to represent the values of the labor movement.

Director, Television and Video, The American Film Institute, 1980-1982

Kirkman set up the first TV and Video program for AFI. He produced the first National Video Festival at The Kennedy Center; developed The Sony Video Center, a state-of-the-art production facility to serve the Center for Advanced Film Studies, and organized conferences and exhibitions at AFI's Kennedy Center theater and Los Angeles campus.

Grants and Sponsored Research

During his time as Dean, the School of Communication raised more than $20 million in external funding in support of academic and professional centers and other faculty research and professional activities from major foundations, including Ford, MacArthur, McCormick, Knight, Robert Wood Johnson, Surdna and Wyncote, the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. The School of Communication established new academic and professional centers and institutes under Kirkman's direction:

  • Center for Social Media, launched in 2001, produces programs on social documentary, intellectual property rights and the future of public service media. It has core funding from the Wyncote Foundation and was funded by The Ford Foundation as part of its Public Media Initiative;
  • Investigative Reporting Workshop, a laboratory for the development and testing of new tools and techniques for investigative reporting, was launched in 2008; funders include the Ford, MacArthur, and Public Welfare foundations;
  • J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, moved to SOC with the support of The Knight Foundation in 2008, helping journalists and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways of participating in public life; with funding from the McCormick Tribune Foundation;
  • Center for Environmental Filmmaking, is inspiring and training a new generation of environmental media makers, supported by production and educational partnerships with government agencies, nonprofits and public media channels since 2005. Funders include The Wallace Genetic Foundation;
  • Current, the journal for public media for more than 30 years was acquired from WNET-TV in 2010. With the support of The Wyncote Foundation, Current has expanded its coverage with new editorial staff and a new website. It is informing and shaping a robust and inclusive public media culture that is core to the mission of the School.
  • Community Voice Project, launched in 2009, with funding from Surdna, has been built on courses in documentary storytelling and community reporting, and on partnerships with Washington area nonprofits, New America Media and the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum; and,
  • Institute for Strategic Communication for Nonprofits,from 2003-2007, provided summer programs on issue advocacy and public service campaigns for nonprofit communication managers, funded by Surdna, Annie E. Casey and Packard foundations.

At the Benton Foundation, from 1989-2001, Kirkman raised more than $30 million for projects and programs from dozens of private foundations, corporations and government agencies.

He developed and managed a partnership with The Advertising Council to help fulfill its ten-year commitment to PSAs on children and families. Benton became the Ad Council sponsor and partner on a ground-breaking multiple media campaign, Connect for Kids, which garnered more than $300 million in donated TV, radio, print, outdoor and Web-banner advertising from1998 to 2001, with a groundbreaking website that was a major step forward in public service campaign fulfillment. The AT&T Foundation provided a $3 million grant to launch the campaign and the Kellogg, Packard, Atlantic and Knight foundations provided additional major funding. One wave of advertising included the first PSA to use both a President and First Lady, the Clintons, which received more than $60 million in donated media.

He created the U.S. Center for in 2000 with start-up support from The Rockefeller Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.  With on-going core support from The Ford Foundation, and project support from The MacArthur Foundation, Omidyar Foundation and Open Society Institute, OneWorld U.S.has produced a daily news service on Yahoo World News since 2001, providing context for international headlines and voices from the frontlines of international development.

Through the mid-nineties, Benton organized and facilitated a series of ground-breaking conferences on the key issues of the digital age, including:

  • In 1993, the Advocacy Video Conference, brought together 300 producers from 17 countries to share strategies and techniques in the use of video for social change. Sponsors included The MacArthur Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Freedom Forum and Sony Corporation.
  • In 1994, The Public Interest Summit brought together 700 nonprofit leaders to claim a stake in shaping the new media environment. Produced in response to a request from the White House and the National Information Infrastructure Task Force, the event was broadcast live on CSPAN and National Public Radio and featured a keynote by Vice-President Gore. It was funded by a dozen foundations, including Ford, MacArthur, Carnegie, Kellogg and Packard.

At Benton, Kirkman established two major national regranting programs:

  • Sound Partners for Community Health (1996-2006), bringing public stations and community groups together to produce public health programs, funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with $10 million over ten years; and,
  • Open Studio:The Arts Online (1996-1998), providing training for local arts groups on using the Internet, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Ford and Microsoft foundations.

At the American Film Institute, Kirkman created and produced the National Video Festival, sponsored by The Sony Corporation, and launched in 1981 at the Kennedy Center, and in 1982, held in Washington and in Los   Angeles at the new AFI campus. The first festival reviewed ten years of innovations in documentary and community video and brought together catalyst users from every sector of television and the emerging cable industries. The second festival featured new work in the arts, performance and narrative to challenge the traditional formulas of film and television.

Professional Services

  • Judge, Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, 2009, J-Lab: Institute for Interactive Journalism, a project of the School of Communication, American University.
  • Chair, OneWorld International Foundation (, 2002-2006  Provided leadership for a global collaborative of multimedia centers working for human rights, sustainable development and social justice, tapping into the knowledge and networks of more than 2000 partner organizations,  including NGOs, development-oriented news services, foundations and research institutions. 
  • Judge, White House Correspondents Association awards: Aldo Beckman Award, 2003 and Edgar A. Poe Award, 2009.
  • Juror, American Film Institute and Discovery Channel SILVERDOCS, 2003.
  • Member, steering committee of the Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media,1997-2001, and chair of its annual Film and Video Festival 1998;
  • Chair, Communications Committee, Funders for Citizen Participation, 1998-2001.
  • Chair, Council on Foundations Communications Committee, 1996.


Kirkman's career in documentary and public affairs production spans more than 30 years, as executive producer, producer and writer.

At Benton Foundation, Kirkman was executive producer of public education and advocacy videos, including: 

  • Destination Democracy: A Guide to Money in Politics (1997), a video and web project mapping the solutions for campaign finance reform;
  • The Campaign to End Childhood Hunger (1991), a campaign video for the Food Research and Action Center; and
  • Are You There and This is Noise (1995), "trigger" videos on communications policy.

At Benton, he also wrote and produced television and radio PSAs for the Who's for Kids and Who's Just Kidding campaign for the Coalition for America's Children (1992). 

At the Labor Institute of Public Affairs, he was executive producer of  America Works, (1984/85) a public television series of documentary/public affairs programs on workplace issues, hosted by veteran journalist Marie Torre. Tom Shales said in The Washington Post, "America Works works - Torre is a tough, skilled moderator."   Episodes covered the topics of plant closings, services to the unemployed, pay equity for women, voter registration, toxics in the workplace, job retraining, and health care cost containment.

Kirkman was executive producer of half-hour Labor Day specials for public television, including:

  • Singing for the Union (1985);
  • Future of Work (1986);
  • Union Women: A New Force for Change (1987); and,
  • South Africa: Black Trade Unions Lead the Way (1988).

And, he was executive producer of Expectations (1987), an award winning public television documentary special on the loss of industrial jobs and a Steelworkers' foodbank in East Los Angeles, narrated by John Lithgow, with music by Ry Cooder and Mose Allision. 

In the 1970s and '80s, Kirkman was part of a movement of independent producers for public television, whose productions pushed the envelope of developments in video technology and public affairs formats. He produced, co-produced and wrote documentary and public affairs specials, including:

  • Co-producer and writer, The TV Family (1976), funded by The National Endowment for the Arts, profiling the TV viewing habits and opinions of a three generation family, showing the ambivalence behind the ratings, using new portable color video recording;
  • Senior producer for Nuclear Power:The Public Reaction (1979), a three-hour live documentary event special from the Three Mile Island march on the Capitol. It was the first use of the the PBS satellite system by a group of independent producers. Tom Shales said in a review that "May 6, 1979, was the first day of the '80s. We moved into a New Television -- though on tip-toe. Not everyone noticed it when it happened or knows about it even yet, but the day was a landmark for public TV, for the technological revolution in broadcasting and for America's rapidly expanding subculture of grass-roots video guerrillas." The live program was hosted by PBS science reporter, David Prowitt, and featured documentary roll-ins shot on the buses coming to the demonstration, and in the crowd on the Mall, and edited on the spot, an innovation at the time;
  • Line producer for a ninety-minute special, Abortion: Right to Life vs. Right to Choose (1979),  from the Right to Life Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, hosted by Daniel Schorr and Marie Torre. Also, producer of a documentary report for the special, with Schorr, on the battle for Congress and the Republican "hit list."  This program was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Special Event Fund;
  • Co-producer and co-writer, None of the Above (1980), with funding from PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts, an election day special on non-voters, mixing together stories of non-voters, interviews with journalists and political scientists and a news report on voting trends. With final recording and editing of mini-documentaries on election eve and airing on PBS on election day, this show was  on the cutting edge of video production; and,
  • Co-producer and co-writer, On the Line (1981), documentary portraits of new union members, including football players, flight attendants, and bank tellers. The show was hosted by actor Robert Prosky and funded by a group of labor unions.

As a principal in the Los Angeles based video production company, VideoWorks, Inc., Kirkman produced, directed and wrote a series of video reports on education, survey research and poverty programs from 1972-75, including:

  • School Success for the National Institute of Education, a report on the results of a groundbreaking national study;
  • Interviewing for the Census Bureau, four programs for training on survey research techniques; and,
  • Supported Work for the Department of Labor, a report on the success of a new welfare to work program.

Selected Publications

From 1990-1993, as executive director of the Benton Foundation, Kirkman co-edited and published a ten volume series, Strategic Communications for Nonprofits, a comprehensive guide to media relations, media production, and networking.  Many foundations provided funding for these guides and distributed the series to their grantees,  including Ford, MacArthur, Carnegie and Robert Wood Johnson. The guide topics included, talk radio; Op-Eds; using video; media advocacy; cable access; electronic networking; strategic media relations; and making video.

Under Kirkman's direction, the Benton Foundation mapped the policies, practices, and principles in key arenas where public interest services were being contested: schools, libraries, health care, low income communities and public broadcasting. These publications with funding from The Kellogg and  Joyce foundations, included:

  • The Learning Connection (1995);
  • Losing Ground Bit by Bit (1995);
  • Buildings, Books and Bytes (1998);
  • The E-Rate in America: A Tale of Four Cities (2000).

Benton, The MacArthur Foundation and P.O.V. published Making Television Matter (2001), a guide for producers, broadcasters, activists and funders.

While a professor at American, he co-authored TV Acting (1979), a text on screen performance published by Hastings House, with Elizabeth Daley and James Hindman.

For four years, from 1976-'79, Kirkman was an editor and a writer for TeleVisions, a quarterly journal on the new media of video and cable TV, funded by The National Endowment for the Arts, The Rockefeller Foundation, and The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation. TeleVisions was a beacon and forum for those who were inventing new approaches to production and distribution -- the artists, independent documentary producers, media arts and cable access centers, and those exploring applications in education and health.

AU Expert

Area of Expertise:

Strategic communication for NGOs and civil society; the future of public TV and Radio; communications education and research; social media and independent film and video; public interest communication policies

Additional Information:

Larry Kirkman, dean of the School of Communication since 2001, specializes in public service media, strategic communication for nonprofit organizations, and communications education. He was chair of the One World International Foundation, the governing body for, a global portal for civil society and sustainable development, from 2002 to 2006. Prior to joining AU, Kirkman directed the Benton Foundation, a leader in public interest communication: developing and promoting communication policies related to new media; assisting nonprofit organizations in the use of communications techniques and technologies; and producing Internet-based information networks that served journalism, education, and social action. At Benton, he created Connect for Kids, one of the leading Ad Council campaigns in the 1990s. Earlier in his career, Kirkman was executive director of the Labor Institute of Public Affairs of the AFL-CIO, where, among other activities, he was responsible for national advertising, including the groundbreaking Union Yes campaign and the creation of public television programs, including the America Works series. From 1979 to 1982, he served as the first director of television and video programs at the American Film Institute, where he produced the first National Video Festival. Kirkman brought video into the film program at American as an assistant professor in the School of Communication from 1976 to 1979.

Media Relations
To request an interview please call AU Media Relations at 202-885-5950 or submit an interview request form.