Ruehlmann Signs Off
Dr. William “Bill” Ruehlmann, professor of journalism and communications and adviser for the Marlin Chronicle student newspaper, to retire after 18 years at Virginia Wesleyan College
By Leona Baker | May 10, 2011
“I’ve had great fortune here at Virginia Wesleyan because I’ve been able to lead three lives,” says Dr. Bill Ruehlmann as he leans on a table in the newsroom of the Marlin Chronicle thumbing through the latest issue, “the scholarly one, the teaching one and the advising one—in meaningful ways.”
He says he’s stayed at VWC as long as he has for one reason: it’s fun.
“The students are fun to be with. They’re smarter than I am, which is great because I can learn from them. But they’ve also taught me there’s a time to graduate, so perhaps that’s what I’m doing now.”
Ruehlmann, 65, officially “graduates” at the end of the current semester after 18 years as a professor of journalism and communications. A tireless advocate for the First Amendment, for the journalistic enterprise and, above all, for his students, Ruehlmann was recently recognized as VWC’s first annual Kappa Alpha Professor of the Year.
It’s not the only award he can brag about. The offices of the Marlin Chronicle in the Batten Student Center are plastered wall-to-wall with clippings and awards, including 11 recognitions this year alone from the Society for Collegiate Journalists’ national competition. Ruehlmann credits these honors to his hard-working student journalists.
“We’re a complete operation in that we do all of our own stories, our own pictures, our own art and cartooning, our own layouts,” he says of the Chronicle. “Nothing is syndicated or borrowed. It’s all student-generated in real time, and we’ve never missed a deadline. I’m very proud of that.”
Over the years, Ruehlmann has encouraged his students to hold an unflinching mirror up to what they see around them—good and bad. A college campus, he explains, is a microcosm of the real world where they’ll be expected to do just that if they decide to pursue a career in journalism. He considers the endeavor a public service. The myriad awards the Marlin Chronicle has received are a form of validation.
“They’ve been judged by professionals over the years to be better than competent, and they’ve been consistent. They’ve never had a losing season. And it’s not my paper. It’s the student paper. My role was to advise when asked, to make it possible for them to print. It was their job to get the news, and they did it with integrity and a sense of humor—two things that don’t often go together, but they did.”
“The role of journalism has never been more important. Whether it appears online, in the air, on pieces of paper—no matter where it is, it is the responsible promotion of truth."—Bill Ruehlmann.
Ruehlmann sees the journalistic process as a form of continuing education.
“Journalists are the last perennial students,” he explains. “They go into an editor and say, ‘Can I write about this?’ The editor sends them on their way, they come back with a story, and the editor pats them on the head and puts it in the paper and sends them off again. That’s what a teacher does. You’re a lifetime scholar as a journalist really.”
In the digital age in which we are bombarded at every turn by “voices telling you things and selling you things,” he says, trained professional journalists are needed more than ever.
“The role of journalism has never been more important,” says Ruehlmann. “Whether it appears online, in the air, on pieces of paper—no matter where it is, it is the responsible promotion of truth. Journalism isn’t dead, but it needs to be encouraged to stay alive, and that’s our job.”
Before becoming a professor, Ruehlmann worked for many years as a general assignment reporter, feature writer and columnist for a variety of news outlets. He continued to write professionally while teaching fulltime and still publishes a biweekly literary column called “By the Book” in the Virginian-Pilot.
“The thing that I will miss the most when I leave is the students,” Ruehlmann says. “They’ve taught me the possibilities of teamwork. As a reporter, you’re a lone ranger really, and you usually prefer it that way. You don’t want people hovering over you. I never was a team player, but I learned the value of that and even the family of that. I cherish that. It’s made me a better man.”
After retiring, Ruehlmann plans to travel and focus on his own writing.
“I’m not too old for adventure. That’s part of the attraction. I think it’s time for another adventure, time to take another step beyond the routine and see what it provides me. If nothing else it will give me more time to reflect.”