Alumni recall gaining valuable news skills

Sydney Edwards, Copy Editor

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Throughout the past 100 years, The Daily Eastern News has been the training ground for quite a few students who went on to become big names in the journalism field.

One of those names is Chris Sundheim, who graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in history and journalism.

Chris Sundheim

Chris Sundheim

Sundheim is a top stories desk editor for The Associated Press in Chicago and New York City.

“Immediately after graduation, I did a summer fellowship at the Arizona Republic and the now-defunct Phoenix Gazette,” Sundheim said. “Then I returned to EIU for a master’s degree in history, followed by a reporting job at the News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana.”

Another notable alumnus of The News is Ted Gregory, who graduated  in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Gregory also began his career right after leaving Eastern.

Ted Gregory

Ted Gregory

“I started at the Winona (Minn.) Daily News, then worked at the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago before joining the Tribune,” Gregory said.

Gregory has been a reporter for the Chicago Tribune for 23 years and was part of a Tribune team that won a  Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2008.

Before the two men became big-name journalists in the professional world, they spent a lot of time in the newsroom in college.

While working for The News, Sundheim held the positions of reporter, city editor and news editor.

Gregory held the positions of staff reporter, city editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief while working for The News.

Gregory said he also held a position that was created for him after he had already been editor-in-chief.

“(I was) consulting editor, a job somebody created because I didn’t graduate in four years, and he or she needed to keep me busy if I was going to hang out or be a distraction in the newsroom,” Gregory said.

No matter what positions the men held, they both agree that their time at The News influenced their college experience and professional careers.

For Sundheim, The News was where he spent most of his time while in college.

“The DEN was the center of my college experience. It was my campus job, my professional training ground and my main hangout,” Sundheim said. “Most days, I lingered at the newsroom from early morning until late that night, leaving only to attend classes. It’s also where I met most of my closest friends from school.”

The News also loomed large in Gregory’s college experience.

“The newsroom was pretty much the center of my world at Eastern and so influenced my existence in a number of ways. I always felt very tuned in to the community and the world, which was cool and sort of stretched my mind,” Gregory said. “I made a lot of great friends and had a lot of laughs with those friends. Besides basic reporting, editing and writing skills, I learned valuable lessons about time management.”

Gregory and Sundheim agreed that many of the skills they learned for their professional career, they learned while working at The News.

“The DEN laid the foundation for everything that came after. It taught us about staying organized, being competitive and handling pressure. We learned to be accountable to readers and for our mistakes, which were many,” Sundheim said. “By the end of my first year, I had enough experience to land a valuable internship. From that point on, I interned at a different newspaper every summer. When it came time to find a full-time journalism job, I had good credentials and multiple options.”

Gregory said many people who worked at The News, including himself, were able to start their professional careers right after graduation because of the experience they gained while in the newsroom.

Both men agreed that David Reed, a retired journalism professor who served at different times as The News adviser and the director of student publications, was a large influence on them.

Sundheim also cited John Ryan, who also served as adviser to The News and as director of student publications, as a large influence.

“John Ryan and Dave Reed always provided good counsel. I was in JR’s office almost daily, talking over his critique of that day’s edition, airing frustrations and brainstorming ideas,” Sundheim said.

Along with Reed, Dan Thornburgh, the founder of Eastern’s journalism department, was a large influence on Gregory.

“Like perhaps thousands of people, I owe an enormous amount to David Reed and Daniel Thornburgh, the guys I view as the DEN’s founding fathers,” Gregory said. “They set high standards and made us believe that we scrappy mutts could achieve them. They worked their rear ends off, were always available and cared deeply about their students.”

Reed shared several memories about Gregory, including one that focused on his driving skills.

“I remember when we were returning from a conference in Chicago, and I looked over to see Gregory passing me on the shoulder of the road,” Reed said.

Joking aside, Reed also said Gregory was an excellent reporter who “understood people.”

Gregory said his favorite memory while working for The News centered on spending time building relationships with others in the newsroom.

“One of the remarkable dynamics about the place was that it brought together all sorts of kids who wanted to create this really cool blend of news, information, entertainment, business and art five days a week. It was an intense experience,” Gregory said. “We worked hard, had our share of disagreements and took our craft seriously. But we never really took ourselves too seriously, which is why the atmosphere was so much fun – especially Thursday nights after finishing Friday’s paper – and created a powerful bond among a pretty diverse group.”

Sundheim said one of his favorite parts of working at The News was seeing how the work of the whole staff came together in the newspaper.

“One of my favorite routines was to hang around until the press ran, usually around midnight. There was nothing so satisfying as watching your latest efforts roll off that noisy machine into tall stacks of papers ready for readers,” Sundheim said. “Of course, you often spotted errors, too, none of which could be fixed at that point. The press made a rhythmic clacking sound that I can almost hear even now.”

Sundheim also pointed out a favorite memory during a shift in leadership positions while at Eastern.

“In the beginning, the biggest news involved the departure of President Stan Rives, who left under a cloud, and the selection of a new leader, David Jorns, who brought a lot of changes. A year or so later, Charleston had a long and intense debate over whether to raise the bar-entry age, which oddly was just 19 back then,” Sundheim said. “In my senior year, we were especially proud of a series on race relations called ‘A Separate Peace.’”

Both journalists agreed The News is the place they learned, made friends and became stronger writers.

“The DEN showed me how daily journalism worked. I knew from an early age that I wanted to study journalism, but I had only a vague idea how news was actually gathered,” Sundheim said. “The DEN pulled back the curtain on that process, revealing a newsroom that ran on an exquisite balance of individual initiative and teamwork. I was hooked after only a few weeks.”

Sydney Edwards can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]