Thumbs up for Sun-Times’ backpage nod to Ebert’s legacy


“Do you go to work every day and try to master your job and feel deeply that it matters? Do you believe that you can, through sheer excellence, make it matter even more? Roger Ebert did.”

By Ron Reason

When big news breaks (and in Chicago, Roger Ebert’s death has been big news), those who still love newspapers, in print, often focus on the best front page designs that surface. Today is a day to celebrate a fantastic and memorable  back page, of this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert’s employer for 46 years.

The editorial is elegantly designed in print and readable online here. (Registration may be required, but if you click on the image above to enlarge, you can pretty much read it.) It serves as powerful and heartfelt punctuation to the paper’s 12-page special section, which wraps around the regular edition inside. I have followed Ebert’s work and life since being turned on by newspapers, and television and movies, in the ’70s, and everything he did came through with passion. Not just the film reviews, but in recent years, the blogging, Tweeting, the frankness about his illness … and his constant celebration of life. (Forget the movies for a moment – his walking tours of London and Vienna recounted in his memoir, Life Itself, are pure cinema.)

“He loved everything he ever did, and made it matter to all of us, perhaps because he chose wisely.”

The subtext to the editorial, for anyone familiar with the history of the Sun-Times, is the perseverance of professional pride that exists even today, after decades of horrific mismanagement, financial disaster, changes in ownership, brutal staff reductions. (It was during the particularly wacky and challenging ownership period of the late ’90s that I met Ebert, briefly, while working on a redesign for the Sun-Times.) His work and his presence always reflected a belief that working for a news organization that serves its community, and doing it well, matters.

“And we who were lucky to work with him, we who felt such intense pride in being Chicago Sun-Times journalists simply because Roger was one of us, we were all better for his example and friendship.”

Another lesson he drove home to the end: keeping up with the times, with technology and the culture of communication, is also important – blogging, Tweeting, festivals, no matter the medium. If you have something to say, get it out there, stir the pot. And in recent years more than ever, did Ebert sure have something to say. His Twitter feed, and the comments on his blog posts from his thousands of followers, were among the liveliest to be found anywhere.

“… our obligation to each other is to see and appreciate that which is great.”

An interesting footnote to the page shown above: the printed headline, “Do you love what you do?“, was changed for the online edition to something more routine: “We were all better for knowing Roger Ebert.” Nice, and true, but I far prefer the print edition headline, as it speaks to us and provokes us, and takes us out of the story and back into life itself.

(What do you think, does either headline make a difference? Feel free to leave your views in the comments, below.)

Kudos and condolences to the Sun-Times staff involved in creating the special section, and in keeping Ebert’s legacy, and the newspaper, alive.

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  1. craig

     /  April 5, 2013

    Thanks for the writeup, Ron. Couldn’t agree more with all you said.
    To add a little clarity, the online hed was tweaked for search concerns. I agree, the print headline is stronger, but we wanted to make sure as many people saw it as possible because it was such a great summary of what he meant and who he was within our newsroom and to his many readers.

  2. I figured there was good reason for it, and was wondering if search had something to do with it.

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