Former Phoenix Staffers Remember Adviser as Paper Turns 50

Loyola University Chicago Archives and Special CollectionsRooney was described by students as "a presence" who was passionate about journalism.

Dr. Edmund J. Rooney Jr., a former Phoenix adviser who died in 2007, was described by his students as a stereotypical 1960s newspaperman who inspired work ethic in staff members.

Patricia Sullivan, a previous managing editor for The Phoenix who graduated in 1986, said he was always encouraging the newspaper staff to push harder on stories.

“He wasn’t chomping on a cigar exactly, but he was kind of that stereotype that you would expect,” Sullivan said. “He really encouraged you to be good at it. To work hard at it.”

Rooney started teaching classes part-time at Loyola in 1956, even before he’d earned an undergraduate degree, according to Loyola’s archives. It’s unclear when he started advising for The Phoenix.

Russell Burgos, a former senior feature writer for The Phoenix who graduated in 1986, described Rooney as “a presence” who kept staff members honest in their reporting.

Rooney worked at The Chicago Daily News for 26 years and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his paper’s investigation of a state auditor who went to prison for embezzlement, according to Loyola’s archives.

After the Chicago Daily News closed in 1978, Rooney began teaching full time at Loyola, where he earned master’s and doctorate degrees from Loyola. He continued teaching at Loyola until the 1990s, according to Loyola’s archives. Rooney was also responsible for co-founding the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi chapter at Loyola.

Rooney’s son, Timothy Rooney graduated from Loyola in 1990. Three of Rooney’s six children, including Timothy Rooney, became journalists. He said he never spoke specifically to his father about why he decided to become a newspaper adviser, but he probably saw it as a way to further help students learn about journalism.

Sullivan remembered one situation in which The Phoenix staff wanted to publish a story about a student who was arrested in Mertz Hall, but they faced backlash from the administration and their budget adviser.

Sullivan said they called Rooney and he immediately told them to run the story and publish the student’s name. Although the staff didn’t end up releasing the student’s name, Sullivan said it was an example of Rooney’s encouragement to be confident in their reporting.

“He was pushing us to be more than what we were, to be more bold about it,” Sullivan said. “We were being thoughtful and cautious and he was telling us to — as long as it’s the truth, and you’re not being malicious about it — print it.”

Rooney’s daughter, Ellen Rooney Martin, graduated from Loyola in 1986 and also went on to work as a reporter. She said Rooney was a kind man who deeply valued education and freedom of information.  

“He was like an absent-minded professor,” Martin said. “He was incredibly sweet and had an open personality, but he was a deep thinker. He would always be lost in his head. He wasn’t a hobbies guy, he was intellectual.”

Martin said her father was deeply passionate about journalism which spilled over into all aspects of his life. She said he stayed involved with journalism “until his last days.”

“The toast at my husband and I’s wedding was a journalism toast,” Martin said. “He loved journalism. He loved the freedom of information. He loved the pursuit of it all … He saw it as a calling, not as a profession.”

Burgos, who now works as the academic director for the National Defense University in North Carolina, said he uses the lessons Rooney taught him in his career. He said he remembers Rooney saying, “if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out,” which is a phrase used to explain the importance of fact checking everything.

“I don’t know how many thousands of times I’ve used that [phrase] with both undergraduates and graduate students, talking about research and the importance of scholarly writing and the importance of evaluating sources,” Burgos said.

Burgos said he also appreciates Rooney’s emphasis on the importance of context within news stories. He said Rooney taught him it was important to be aware of the entire situation surrounding the specific news he was covering.  

“That has been really influential in the way that I’ve approached things in my own scholarly writing and the way I teach classes,” Burgos said. “I’m always very much concerned that students understand the things we’re looking at are situated in a wider context and that context matters.”

Sullivan said Rooney’s experience was inspiring and made her feel like her goals were in reach.

“Dr. Rooney was inspirational in that he was this down to earth, South Side guy who won a Pulitzer prize for reporting,” Sullivan said. “He made you feel like you could maybe do that too, if you did the work.”

Sullivan and Burgos said they enjoyed their time on The Phoenix. Burgos described late nights in the basement of Mertz Hall — where the newsroom used to be — that included pizza, drinks and a sense of community.

“You had this sense of completion,” Burgos said. “When you went home after the thing went to papers, there was this sense of collective accomplishment.”

Burgos said joining the staff showed him to learn the importance of the free press and its role in democracy.

“I learned the value of a group of people with a common goal and the importance of dialogue and discussion, and the importance, in a sense, of the role of the press,” Burgos said. “It was sort of instructive that quote on quote ‘even a college paper’ had a role to play in keeping people honest.”

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