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A Journalist's Journey

The Washburn Review led to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times

Pamela Hollie posing in front of various flags

(Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

From The Ichabod - Winter 2022
By Jeremy Wangler

In her junior year at Washburn, Pamela Hollie received a letter from The Wall Street Journal offering her a summer internship. That was the beginning of a 20-year career as a reporter, national correspondent, foreign correspondent, columnist and professor of business journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.

"But the beginning was at Washburn," she said, noting it was at the encouragement of Dorothy Greer, ba 1921, that she tried journalism. “And, it changed my life.”

After her journalism career, Hollie, ba ’70, h ’04, worked with non-profits, helping to address the wrongs she saw throughout the world. Retired now, she returned to Washburn University during Homecoming to share her story with mass media students and others. She has been supporting mass media students since 1985.

A Front-page Student

Hollie grew up in Topeka and wanted to attend an Ivy League school and become a medical doctor. Racial tension in the mid-1960s thwarted that.

“My parents, for good reason, felt it would be safer for me to be closer to home and it would make more sense and they could afford it,” she said.

She came to Washburn and enrolled in chemistry classes.

“My mother said to me one day, ‘Do you think you can take something where the results aren't a bunch of chemical holes in your clothes?’" Hollie said.

Appeasing her mother and opening the door to her future passion, she found a one-credit journalism class taught by Greer.

"I soon realized I could get to know the campus better,” Hollie said. “I also realized this was a way to meet interesting people and travel and do some good for society."

She was better at journalism than she realized, and in her junior year, she won an internship at The Wall Street Journal.

“I was basically a junior at Washburn on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, and I thought, ‘I can do this, and this is really fun,’” she said. “When I finished graduate school in New York, The Wall Street Journal was standing at the door when I got my diploma and said, 'Here's a job.'”

There were few women and even fewer minorities vying for the kinds of jobs Hollie had. She became a business reporter when few women took that path. And to distinguish herself further she focused on the emerging economies of Asia after completing a Gannett Fellowship in Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii. The New York Times hired her immediately after she completed her post-graduate fellowship in Honolulu. At the Times, during a 10-year career, Hollie was a national correspondent, a foreign correspondent in Asia and the Pacific and a financial columnist.

"It is important to be prepared when an opportunity comes," she said. "I have been lucky to have had the support of friends, my community, colleagues, Topeka and Washburn. I am grateful for the confidence and encouragement this support gave me."

Feeling she had taken on every great assignment a journalist could have, Hollie left newspapers and worked in education and fundraising.

“The first half of my career was about finding out what's wrong in the world,” Hollie said. “The second half was about fixing it.”

Searching for the Truth

The Washburn community will study the theme of truth this semester during the fourth annual WUmester, a deep dive into a topic related to social justice. Journalism will no doubt be a focus point.

“Truth is one of those words that's hard to define,” Hollie said. “I don't care what you think. I want to know what you know. We've kind of blended those two things.”

She says students and consumers of media have a lot to digest.

“We've been driven by the delivery process, which frightens me,” she said. “Just because it's out there doesn't mean it's believable, and the fact that you can communicate doesn't mean you should.”

Back Where She Started

The Alumni Association gave her the Distinguished Service Award in 1981 and Washburn University awarded Hollie a doctor of humane letters and in 2004. She has been a Washburn University Foundation trustee since 1997. Always supporting future journalists, she created the Pamela G. Hollie Journalism Excellence Fund at Washburn in 1995, an endowment that allows funding for things like student travel and conference attendance.

“I wanted students to experience a larger world and come to know that being a woman or a minority or that coming from the Midwest is not an obstacle to success,” she said.

When she returned last fall, Hollie received the Lifetime Achievement in Mass Media Award and became an honorary member of Phi Beta Delta, the honor society for international scholars.

Hollie tells students to do what she did: define your career in a substantive way (international business reporter), figure out where you can work to make a difference (Asia) and make it count. Her accolades as a journalist, teacher and philanthropist are testament to her last point.

“She gave me the inspiration that I can do what I want to do,” said Maggie Cabrera, a junior mass media student who met Hollie during her recent visit to Washburn. “It's nice to see where our alumni go and to aspire to be like them because there's people out there who do great things. It gives you a push to want to do better.”

She’s excited for future opportunities.

“I think her life story is really amazing,” Cabrera said. “As a powerful woman, if you set your mind to something and you know you want to do it, you can do anything.”

Spring 2023 Ichabod magazine cover, roses and a rock wall in front of Morgan Hall

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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