Years ago, as a high school student visiting the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for the first time, James Wooldridge met Bruce Thorson.
Wooldridge was a Kansas City-native who loved taking pictures. Thorson, the College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ sole photojournalism professor, took him under his wing.
Under Thorson’s guidance, Wooldridge learned about the opportunities within the journalism program, toured the school and later received a scholarship that provided him with the financial aid he needed to come to Nebraska.
Last month, when Wooldridge won third place and $5,000 in the Hearst Journalism Awards Photojournalism Championship, Thorson was also there to watch.
“He is very talented, and he’s a hard worker,” Thorson said. “For him to get third place in the nation is a great honor. It just solidifies his skill and talent level.”
The Hearst Awards are some of the most competitive in college journalism, including categories in writing, photojournalism, radio, television and multimedia. To place in the event, Wooldridge was tasked with creating a photo story over the course of several days on housing, healthcare and community in the Bay Area.
His winning photos, of a woman living on her boat off the coast of San Francisco, can be viewed here.
“More and more, we’re living in a visual culture where people would rather see than read,” Wooldridge, a senior journalism major, said. “I think there’s a real power for photographs to get people to empathize with others and see what they’re going through in a way that no other medium can.”
Over the years, Wooldridge has held photo internships at the Kansas City Star, Palm Beach Post, Deseret News, the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Lincoln Journal Star.
He’s also dove headfirst into everything the journalism college has to offer — from helping cover the connection between Whiteclay, Nebraska and alcohol in Pine Ridge Reservation to trekking across the globe to Nepal, Uganda and Rwanda for Thorson’s yearly Global Eyewitness Trips.
“There isn’t any other university program, that I know of, that has that kind of opportunity for such a low cost because of the journalism fund we have,” Thorson said of Global Eyewitness.
Working under Matt Waite, founder of Nebraska’s first drone journalism lab, also allowed Wooldridge to obtain his drone license and expand his skill set as a reporter.
“They had just bought a drone, and there were employees studying for their license test,” Wooldridge said, reflecting on an experience during a recent internship. “I got to lead them and be the first one to help the other photographers navigate all the regulations. It was really cool to be able to do that.”
Wooldridge’s individual award at Hearst is part of a larger win by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. The school received third place, and $2,000, in the event’s multimedia category.
“For six or seven years now, we’ve been placing very well in Hearst,” Thorson said. “I think that’s a real good gauge of how well the program is doing and how well the students are doing.”