“Shut up [and] learn how to listen.”
These were the words of advice from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Jim Sheeler.
The Shirley Wormser professor of journalism and media writing in Case Western Reserve University’s English Department, Sheeler visited Lorain County Community College’s campus on April 7.
Sheeler won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his article “Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives” while reporting for the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado.
“I’ve never been good at asking questions,” he said, “but I am good at listening and figuring out where the story is.”
During his presentation, Sheeler had a multitude of lessons to pass along to budding journalists. Among them were patience and curiosity. Becoming embedded into a story is a key component to good story telling. A journalist must truly immerse themselves into the core of an article’s subject in order to have a worthy finished product.
His advice to all journalism students was simple: “Make sure your readers can touch the hand beneath the glove.”
Sheeler worked as a freelance writer for The Denver Post from 1999 to 2003 and was a senior staff writer for the Boulder Planet from 1996 to 2000. He was then hired at Case Western Reserve University in 2010.
“If you’re willing to really commit yourself to a story, you [need to] find these kind of raw moments that illustrate more of humanity than just breaking news,” he advised.
Sheeler’s 24-page story, “Final Salute” documented the story of a Marine officer with the duty of informing family members that their loved ones had been killed in action.
“Yes, it’s great that as a growing reporter you have a front page story, but that scandal…is not something you’re going to return to,” Sheeler said. “Write a few sentences that you’re proud of, even in stories that you don’t care about. Find a way to make things interesting.”
Sheeler encouraged journalism students to challenge themselves, especially while they are young. He pointed out that the journalism field today is a tough spot to be in, but in some ways it provides journalists with more opportunities to write.
“Look for lessons in every story you do. Journalism is not an endeavour that’s going to make you rich, so you need to find ways that it’s going to enrich you in other ways,” he continued.
“Look for stories that last.”
Alex Delaney-Gesing contributed to this story