Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review
Each year, hundreds of Western students attend class in the huge classrooms of the Communications Facility for Tim Pilgrim’s Journalism 190: Introduction to Mass Media. They listen to his lectures about social inequality and racism in Disney movies, but few know what makes this long-time educator and part-time poet, tick. We sat down with him to find out.
The AS Review: Where did you grow up?
Pilgrim: I grew up in Montana, in Dillon, the southwestern corner quite near Yellowstone Park. It’s sort of in a corner where Butte and Missoula are the closest big towns, and then Idaho Falls is a big town to the south.
Review: Would you say that growing up there contributed to your interest in environmentalism?
Pilgrim: Yeah, I would say that’s true. I mean, not that the tenants were especially environmentally pure. I can remember times when they were kind of abusing the earth, and so as I grew up and got a little more education I can reflect upon that. My dad would routinely throw beer cans out of the car…. I never littered. In fact I made my kids pick up garbage when we left the beach when I was living in Coeur d’Alene. We couldn’t leave the beach of the lake until they had taken more garbage with us than we took down.
Review: Where did you go to college?
Pilgrim: I went to Western so to speak, but it was Western Montana College, in Dillon. It was an education college, and I went there because my parents didn’t want to pay the money to send me to Missoula, where the school of journalism was. So I ended up getting a teaching degree first and then I went to Missoula.
Review: A lot of students take Journalism 190, what led to the development of that class?
Pilgrim: If you don’t have a class like Journalism 190, where you don’t have somewhere to learn that journalists serve a purpose in maintaining the status quo, they [students] internalize the values of the society.
If they don’t take a class like 190 then they don’t become a little bit critical of the gathering of news….It’s really about media as a social force, and so I taught this class several places and the version that is here at Western is sort of my own development. I try to pick videos that bring in experts from around the country and they have good, although sometimes old, examples of support for the arguments that they make. Kids nowadays don’t learn by lecture…. Mass media are the solution, but my class is about the problem. How in a democracy, where all of the ideas are supposed to get out there, how do you get them out there if not through media? And if media are diverted to entertaining us and making profit for owners, then do all the ideas get out there? And if you don’t have all the ideas getting out there do you really have a democracy?
Review: What inspires your poetry?
Pilgrim: A lot of it’s imagination. I mean obviously if you look back a couple years at my stuff it comes out of some sort of personal turmoil.
Review: Is there anything besides work you like to do? Fishing? Hiking?
Pilgrim: Oh yeah, all those. I like to fly fish. I would say I run over 330 days a year. I’ve run five marathons. I was trying to run one marathon for every decade I’ve lived. But I’m in my sixties now, and I haven’t run my sixth…. I write poetry, play with my cats, gardening. I’m pretty handy so I do a lot of home building projects. Visiting my grandkids and my kids, and then Carolyn (Pilgrim is married to journalism professor Carolyn Dale.) and I like to go traveling. She and I are great companions.