December 2, 2020

Webster alum Jim Rodenbush advises students during Joe Paterno’s demise

Webster University graduate and former Journal general manager Jim Rodenbush advised Penn State University's newspaper staff as they covered Joe Paterno's fall from grace and death.

After his alarm sounded at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday Jan. 22, Jim Rodenbush, the advisor for The Daily Collegian, Penn State University’s student-run newspaper, learned about Joe Paterno’s death on Twitter. Paterno, former Penn State football coach, died 65 days after his son said he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Rodenbush and The Daily Collegian staff knew Paterno’s health was deteriorating, so they were prepared for Paterno’s death.

Rodenbush described the past couple months as being, “surreal.”

Rodenbush took his position at The Daily Collegian in the spring of 2011.

Rodenbush, 35, is a 1998 graduate of Webster University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism. He also worked as The Journal’s general manager from August 2009 through December 2010.

When Rodenbush first started at Penn State, he said he was well aware of Paterno’s legendary status at the university, though the two never met face to face.

Paterno started to make headlines when the grand jury reported on Nov. 5, 2011, that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on several accounts of sexual abuse.  Paterno was fired as head coach on Nov. 9, 2011.

The most important thing to him was for his students to tell a fair and objective story.

Rodenbush said there was no need for him to tell The Daily Collegian staff how to handle this saga.

“I have a large group of professionals.  There’s no telling them,” Rodenbush said. “The editors came in and knew it was time to respond to it.”

Since the news broke about Paterno’s death, Rodenbush wanted to keep the environment in the newsroom professional, but the emotional connection the staff felt with Paterno was to be expected.

“Since the story started, it’s still difficult to put into words,” Rodenbush said. “On the one hand, State College is now my home and I feel a certain amount of sadness for everybody involved because this is simply a tragic story.  On the other hand, I’ve been involved with different aspects of covering this story.”

What Rodenbush said he will miss about Paterno is the large body of work that the all-time winningest football coach in Division I history has accomplished in his 46 years as Penn State’s coach.

“I’m glad to be around it to see it,” Rodenbush said.

Rodenbush will discuss the news stories surrounding Paterno in a beginning reporting class.

The Daily Collegian has added a 16-page special commemorative edition devoted to Paterno in the Jan. 23 issue.

Rodenbush said the response from the Penn State community was to the effect of having a death in the family.  People surrounded Paterno’s statue and put candles and flowers around it in honor of Paterno.

“He is part of the fabric.  He is part of the town, the community, the region, the proximity, the interest,” Rodenbush said.  “He is the story.”

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