Daily Illini Front-Page Ebert Editorial: ‘What He Did for This Paper is Everywhere’

The Daily Illini at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign produced a special front page yesterday filled with content honoring iconic film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert served as a writer and later editor-in-chief of the DI during the early 1960s.

Among other moments, he was in charge of the paper during the assassination of president John F. Kennedy.  As a staffer under him at the time recalls, “We all rushed to The Daily Illini [after Kennedy was assassinated].  Everyone who worked for the paper came running down.  Of course the bells were going off in the AP and UPI machines, signaling a major story.  And Roger was there front and center. . . . He knew what to do.”

Speaking about his lasting influence, a special editorial by the current DI team notes, “Hundreds of editors and writers at The Daily Illini have looked to Roger Ebert for inspiration, for direction, as they pursue their own career paths, be them in journalism, the arts or the sciences.  Ebert’s alma mater, the University of Illinois, sits between cornfields and cow farms, far from a major city.  At times, it can feel as if our diplomas will not show us an open door to our dreams, but then we look to Ebert, and we, too, might achieve greatness.  Deadspin founder and former sports editor at the Daily Illini, Will Leitch, wrote about the film critic in March 2010, ‘He was proof there was a ticket out.  I went to study journalism at the University of Illinois, simply, because I wanted to be Roger Ebert.’  A poster of him– his smile and those eyes behind silver spectacles– is on one wall of our newsroom, but what he did for this paper is everywhere.”


At the bottom of the front page, the DI also republished an editorial Ebert wrote the day before his EIC tenure ended at the paper almost exactly 50 years ago.

“There is, I believe, not an activity on this campus which demands more of its participants during the entire school year than The Daily Illini does,” Ebert wrote at the time.  “There are at least a dozen members of our staff whose jobs require a minimum of 30 hours of work a week. For most of these editors, 30 hours is just a start. . . . And, since most of the hard physical work on The Daily Illini is done between the hours of 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. the next morning, the time spent here by staff members is a considerable sacrifice.  Yet there have been editors nuts enough to go the route for 93 years, and I am convinced there will always be a sufficient supply.  I think most of us spend our time working on the newspaper because we consider it to be one of the few outlets on campus for real, meaningful activity.”


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