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Introduction

The Oral History Research Office's interview with John B. Oakes is presented here in four parts. He was first interviewed in 1961 by Kenneth Leish, who was a former journalism student of Louis M. Starr, the director of the Oral History Research Office at the time. Leish was then a member of the editorial staff of American Heritage, a magazine founded by Nevins. Leish had already interviewed Richard Rodgers for the Office. A second interview was completed in 1964 by Scott Bruns, another student of Starr's. Bruns, who eventually joined the staff of NBC, had conducted a number of interviews for the Office's Eisenhower project as well as for the McGraw-Hill project. He was one of a number of freelance journalists who served as interviewers under Starr. The third interview was conducted by Starr himself in 1978. Starr, who had been a journalist before coming to Columbia University, was a professor in the School of Journalism. Part four of the interview was conducted by Mary Marshall Clark at various times in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Clark, who was then the associate director of the Office, had come to Columbia after a tenure at the New York Times Oral History Project. This segment of the interview built on the research base she had accumulated while at the Times.

Unlike the Perkins interview, which was conducted in a relatively limited sequence over a number of years, this set of interviews, which spans 34 years and four interviewers, offers insight about the ways in which time and personality alter the historical narrative, even though the story remains, in essence, the same. However, in the fourth section of this oral history, Oakes does touch on new material, his role outside the newspaper as an environmental activist.

John B. Oakes was a pioneer of environmental journalism and wrote the first column on environmental issues in a major newspaper, starting in 1951.

Interview Excerpt
John B. Oakes was one of the early pioneers of environmental journalism. Listen to Oakes describe his efforts to carve out space for environmental topics in the New York Times.
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