On the surface, this development practically gushes irony. Sheeler, after all, is the very type of person newspapers need to retain if they're going to survive and thrive in the future — but instead of sticking around at the Rocky, he's heading to CU, where he'll ready students for a profession they may not even recognize by the time they pick up their diplomas. However, he and Voakes see things in much more positive terms. For one thing, students keep enrolling in journalism programs regardless of uncertainties surrounding the profession. According to Voakes, CU caps journalism enrollment at 600 undergraduates, and over the past five years, the number of students in pre-journalism categories has never dipped below 800. And although Voakes concedes that fewer students "show an interest in paying their dues at a community or rural paper and then working their way up to the Post or the Rocky," he says a similar amount "are learning these skills so they can go into entrepreneurial work that's more web-based — and I'm thinking that's not such a bad thing." With this shift in mind, CU is tweaking its curriculum to emphasize the sort of multimedia and cross-platform skills that the 21st century demands.
At the same time, Sheeler believes that the art of storytelling will be as important tomorrow as it is today. "No matter what medium we're reporting in, somebody's got to be there to write the stories," he says, "and I think that's where journalism is going to be headed. You need to give people a reason to really invest their time in a story, and to do that, you have to write it well."
CU's latest prize is award-winning journalist Jim Sheeler.
The basic reporting class Sheeler taught last fall, during which he "tried to get everyone away from the inverted pyramid and talked about really crafting true stories," only reinforced this philosophy. As such, he doesn't believe he's abandoning newspapers just because he's split from the Rocky. He's simply supporting them in a different way.
"I'd like to instill a passion for storytelling in fifteen or twenty students at a time," he says. "And even if only a few of them go out there with that same passion to tell stories, journalism will still be all the better for it."