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.
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.