A Student Writer to Reckon With - University of Illinois Archives

'I spent more time working on the Daily Illini than I did studying. After selling the Spectator, I walked in cold and began writing a weekly column. I became the news editor, and then was appointed editor in my senior year. I can’t say it was the best job I ever had, but . . . well, yes I can. It was the best job I ever had.' - Roger Ebert, Life Itself, 2011


Roger was far from the typical cub reporter when, toward the end of his freshman year, he got his first assignment at The Daily Illini. He had won an Illinois Press Association statewide award for a sports story written when he was a high school junior, had been co-founder and writer/editor of Spectator, and had written fiction for Chaff. Through these and other media, he was already well-published on topics including sports, community business, literature, and university life.

Over the next four years, he made major contributions to the political and intellectual life of the University of Illinois campus through his regular “Ars Gratia” column, his occasional byline articles, and his myriad behind–the-scenes tasks involved in putting out a daily newspaper. He clearly got the attention of students, whose occasional letters to the editor would sometimes reflect impatience with Roger’s sense of self-importance.

Overconfident or not, Roger’s voice on issues was influential enough that university administrators expended considerable effort to track what he was doing. Given the nearly four years of his regular writing for The Daily Illini, it’s not surprising that he had an outsized influence on the University. His special contribution was based on three factors: the confident mindset of a native son, the keen vision of a careful observer, and the razor-like wit of an eloquent writer.