Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In Praise of Jim Sheeler, Pulitzer Prize Winner

I have been in awe of Jim Sheeler's writing talents since the Third Great Obituary Writers Conference, when retired journalism professor Garrett Ray shared copies of Jim's "A Colorado Life," a freelance obit feature Jim started at the Denver Post.

It wasn't until the winter of 2003 that I was able to convince my editors at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, to allow me to try something similar. We call it "A Life Story."

This new feature was certainly better than the type of obits I had been doing, but it didn't hold a candle to Jim's work.

Last year, when the American Society of Newspaper Editors announced that its revolving category for 2005 would be obituary writing, my boss kept telling me, "You're a shoe-in for this award."

I told him he was overconfident. That he didn't realize what terrific work is being done by my obit-writing friends across the country and by many other obit writers whom I haven't had the pleasure of meeting.

And then I told him what I truly believed. "If the Rocky Mountain News submits Jim Sheeler's work in the obit category, there's absolutely no way I or anyone else can win."

I have to believe that Jim's paper must have submitted his general assignment work and not his obits. After all, he does more than walk the death beat these days.

That decision cleared the way so the rest of us would stand a chance. I got lucky and took home the ASNE honors, but I knew I didn't - and still don't - measure up to the standard of excellence the Jim sets.

A few weeks ago, we learned that Jim won the 2006 ASNE Award for nondeadline writing. And now, he's got the top prize in journalism - the Pulitzer - for feature writing.

Congratulations, Jim! Nobody deserves this honor more than you.

For those who don't know, Jim, Steve Miller (whose byline in the New York Sun is "Stephen Miller") and I are co-authors of "Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers." For more information on the book and how to order it, visit and click he "my book" button.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Alana!

Anonymous said...

That is, on the 2005 award.