Roger Ebert continues to be the world’s most famous movie critic — and he left this world over two years ago.
He began his career as a print newspaper man, then moved most famously into television where he and his on-screen sparring partner, Gene Siskel, became pop icons. If it weren’t for that TV show, Ebert of course would still have been a revered film critic. His ability to imbue every single review with his love and passion of the cinema — whether he hated the movie he was reviewing or not — is still an accomplishment of skill and wonder that perhaps nobody else will ever match.
However, Ebert’s really lasting legacy is as an online pioneer. He was a very early advocate of having an online presence and making sure his work was properly archived online. Today, his eponymous website, RogerEbert.com, is still going strong. There are new reviewers continuing Ebert’s legacy, but, more importantly, one can access what can be assumed is his entire reviewing output from his very early days of reviewing in the late 1960s.
Even though Ebert wrote his reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, he knew enough to keep control over his archives. He was astute enough to know that his name was a brand in and of itself and held control over the destiny of his writing.
No other film reviewers do that. The only one who comes close is fellow Chicagoan Jonathan Rosenbaum who has been actively archiving and posting his older writing at his own website for the last several years.
Historically, writers have little control over their work. That work is usually under the control of whatever entity publishes that work. But, that’s a business practice holdover from the pre-digital world. It doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
Writers should control their own work.
Currently, the Internet largely functions in a business manner leftover from traditional publishing. Web sites need “content” so they pay little to no money to writers in order to generate income for investors. If the publisher or the investors don’t get a return on the investment, then those websites usually go under, deleting a writer’s work from history. It’s the lucky failed website that keeps its writing archives online indefinitely.
But, in a world where a writer controls the publication of his own work, that work can live on for as long as the writer intends it to — during his or her lifetime and even beyond. Roger Ebert proved that in a big way and all writers should follow his example.