(1926 – 2013)



Courtesy Photo: Silha CenterCourtesy Photo: Silha Center



    The field of mass communication ethics has lost another giant. Donald M. Gillmor, retired professor of journalism and masscommunication in the University of Minnesota, died on February 14, 2013. Although better know for his scholarly work in the fields of constitutional and media law (attacks on the First Ammendment, access to govenrment documents, defamation, etc.), according to a number of his colleagues (including those who paid tribute to him through the pages of the Silha Bulletin and the Silha Center Web site), he placed ethics high on his list of priorities, interests and concerns. For example, before his 2009 retirement, he had written at least six articles for Media Ethics Magazine—and many, many others for other books and periodicals.

    Gillmor was the founding director (1984-1995) of the Silha Center for the Study of Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, and was named as holder of the Silha Chair (1990-1995). Upon Gillmor’s death, Daniel Wackman, former director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota, said Gillmor had “shaped the major contours of mass communication law.” And, according to colleague Hazel Dicken-Garcia, Gillmor was an exemplar; particularly known for his respect for students, his collegiality, his “unflappability,” his courtesy, and his scholarship and love of work. A true giant.

     His many publications included the seminal Mass Communication Law: Cases and Comment (with Jerome A. Barron), in its many editions. (In 1970, the first edition received the Frank Luther Mott Research Award from Kappa Tau Alpha, journalism’s honor society). His many articles and books included Power, Publicity, and the Abuse of Libel Law (1992); Media Freedom and Accountability (co-editor, 1989); Enduring Issues in Mass Communication (co-editor, 1978); and Free Press and Fair Trial (1966). He was a frequent guest on radio and television discussions of media and made dozens of presentations to community groups and to academic and professional gatherings. In 1999 he received the Al McIntosh Distinguished Service to Journalism Award from the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

     Don earned his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Manitoba in 1949, and a year later a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He joined the editorial staff of the Winnipeg Free Press in 1950, where he was a reporter and copyreader. He also was a part-time copyreader for the Fargo Forum and the Grand Forks Herald while serving on the faculty of the University of North Dakota from 1953 to 1965. He was awarded his doctorate in mass communication from the University of Minnesota in 1961.

     Gillmor’s first award for distinguished teaching came from students, faculty and alumni of the University of North Dakota in 1959. He received two similar awards from the Minnesota Press Club in 1975 and 1978. In 1993 he received the Horace T. Morse—Minnesota Alumni Association Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. Ball State, Saint Cloud State and Washington and Lee universities gave him First Amendment awards in 1984, 1992 and 1993 respectively. He was cited for “contributions to student experience” by the University of Minnesota Student Alumni Board of Governors in 1985, and he received the George Hage/Mitch Charnley Award of Excellence from the Minnesota Daily Alumni Association in 1996. That same year, he received the Constitutional Law Award from the Minneapolis law firm of Mansfield, Tanick and Cohen. In 2009, he received the University of   Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication Alumni Society’s Award for Excellence.

     In 1990, Gillmor was selected as a Senior Fellow at the Gannett Center for Media Studies at Columbia University and assigned to Columbia’s law faculty. He also was a visiting professor of American Studies and Mass Communication at the University of Munich in Germany and a visiting professor of political science at the University of Lund in Sweden. He lectured in Russia, South Korea and Taiwan. He was always available to advise media professionals on questions of media ethics and law, and served widely on professional and academic boards and committees. And, as one student said after Gillmor’s death, “Throughout his career, Professor Gillmor served as the Minnesota Daily’s volunteer unofficial legal adviser.”

     Donald Gillmor is survived by his wife of 63 years, Sophie; his daughter, Vivian Cathcart of Toronto; his son, Peter; and his grandsons, Steven Cathcart, and Kevin and Geoffrey Gillmor, as well as by two brothers.

     Memorial gifts may be directed to the Donald Gillmor Fund at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Checks should be made payable to the University of Minnesota, and can be mailed directly to The Donald Gillmor Memorial Fund, c/o University of Minnesota Foundation, C-M 3854, P.O. Box 70880, St. Paul, MN 55170-3854. All gifts will be matched by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

     Note: The above account draws heavily from a press release by the University of Minnesota. A number of additional tributes and remembrances of Don Gillmor may be accessed through the Silha Foundation: This material includes a detailed account of Gillmor’s teaching practices and his concern for students, written by Professor Emerita Hazel Dicken-Garcia, and an “appreciation” by Everette E. Dennis, Dean and CEO, Northwestern University, Qutar and formerly head of the Gannett Center for Media Studies housed at Columbia University, as well as a remembrance by David Wackman of the University of Minnesota.

     Below, in this issue of Media Ethics, you will find “A Tribute to Don Gillmor” by William A. Babcock; the 2009 news report by John J. Breslin of a “roast” conducted by colleagues, friends and family upon his retirement from the University of Minnesota; and a reprint of A. David Gordon’s “On the Shoulders of Giants: Don Gillmor,” originally published in Media Ethics, Spring 2000. We wish to thank the Silha Center for the Study of Ethics and Law, and its director, Jane E. Kirtley, for their cooperation