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World/National News

April 6, 2013

Ebert showed willingness to adapt to new media


In the process, he demonstrated to other journalists who grew up in a print world that tweets had value.

“When I first went to Twitter, I thought it was stupid,” said Michele Norris, a host and special correspondent for National Public Radio and a former Tribune reporter. “But he used it to rant and to educate and to push and cajole and make people laugh and think.”

Chicago’s surviving newspapers have seen their staffs slashed, but Ebert never lost his love for newsprint. It was there on his desk: the student newspaper he continued to read for decades after college. He once wrote a scathing open letter to former Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti, who on his way out the door said newspapers were “destined to die.”

“Newspapers are not dead, Jay, because there are still readers who want the whole story, not a sound bite,” he wrote.

In the same letter, Ebert explained his decision to stay at the paper during the time it was owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

“I was asked, ‘How can you work for a Murdoch paper?’ My reply was: It’s not his paper. It’s my paper. He only owns it.”

That helps explain why Ebert, even at the height of his television fame, kept his word not to abandon the Sun-Times.

“He was a big-city newspaper man. He took pride in all the history of that,” said Barbara Scharres, director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center who had known Ebert since 1975 and wrote for rogerebert.com.

Ebert tweeted links to his reviews, posts from bloggers he admired and old pictures from long-ago film festivals. He was willing to interact with the public and answer their tweets, emails and Facebook messages. The effort earned him an army of followers on social media in addition to his newspaper readers and TV audience.

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