Daily Illini alum Bernard Schoenburg recounts career in journalism


Photo courtesy of Bernard Schoenburg

Bernard Schoenburg worked for The Daily Illini and specialized in investigative reporting, and since his time at Illini Media he worked for The Pantagraph.

By Willie Cui, News Editor

One could argue that Bernard Schoenburg’s career as one of Illinois’s most prominent political journalists was sparked by a news story about the British rock band Jethro Tull.

When Schoenburg walked through the doors of the The Daily Illini office in 1974 and joined the college paper, he was assigned to cover the meetings of the advisory committee for Assembly Hall, now called the State Farm Center.

“I started covering a meeting a week,” he said. “I was very new at this, and it was just because I was covering that building … I was at The Daily Illini office one day when we got a call.”

The caller said a fraternity had sent one of their pledges to buy blocks of tickets to a Jethro Tull concert at Assembly Hall and were reselling them for $20 each.

“The tickets were $6, but we heard that they were reselling those tickets — scalping them was the word,” he said. “And at that time, resale of tickets for above the ticket price was not legal.”

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And so, Schoenburg was sent undercover along with his roommate and $40 for two concert tickets.

“We gave over the 40 dollars, got the two tickets, brought them back to the office and this story, including the picture of the two tickets, resulted,” Schoenburg said, holding up a copy of the article he wrote with Pat Wingert.

As a result, he and Wingert won an award for investigative reporting at The Daily Illini that year, and the practice of selling blocks of tickets to organizations for events at Assembly Hall was replaced with a lottery system.

“And so, I was kind of hooked, you know?” Schoenburg said.

After graduating from the University in 1976 with a degree in journalism, Schoenburg found a job writing for The Pantagraph in Bloomington with the help of Gene Smedley, the managing editor for the paper at the time.

Eventually in 1977, Schoenburg was tapped to staff The Pantagraph’s news desk at the Illinois State House in Springfield to cover the state legislature and state politics.

“My editor who had been at The Pantagraph for many years thought I could go. I didn’t have family ties — I could stay in hotels and cover sessions,” he said. “And so I got thrown into it truly when I haven’t even covered a city council meeting.”

When The Pantagraph was purchased by the Chronicle Publishing Company in 1980, Schoenburg was assigned to the State House full time and moved to Springfield in January 1982.

“Being there on non-session days, being in the press room, having my own space is what really got me going to understand what I needed to do over time,” Schoenburg said. “I continued to grow into it and ended up staying there for almost five years.”

It was during this time that Schoenburg met his wife Kim who’s from Springfield and was in medical school at the time. Because his wife was doing her medical residency in Oak Park, Schoenburg moved closer to Chicago, where he got a job writing for the Associated Press in 1986.

Around the turn of the decade, the couple moved back to Springfield, where Schoenburg was hired as a reporter and political columnist at The State Journal-Register, the newspaper for Springfield.

“I always said to people ‘It was big city politics, small town traffic’ … you can almost always park for nothing or just a little bit of money within a block of where you’re going,” Schoenburg said. “I have enjoyed the size of town, partly because it offered the big city politics to cover and watch while also having a small town feel.”

During his time covering local and state politics in Springfield, Schoenburg said he always did his best to be fair to the people discussed in his reporting.

“I never was going to put anything in the paper, and to me that was in a column as well as in a story, that would make somebody look bad or cast a negative light on someone or raise a question about someone, I always wanted to give them the opportunity to respond,” he said.

Schoenburg noted that although Springfield has a decently sized population, it was still likely for him to run into the subjects of his articles, especially when covering the Illinois legislature at the State House.

“I found that by giving people their say, they viewed me as fair and continued to talk to me,” he said. “I also found that those responses could often dash a story. You hear a rumor; you check it out; it doesn’t show up; I didn’t write it.”

Dean Olsen, a staff writer for The Illinois Times who worked with Schoenburg at The State Journal-Register, noted that Schoenburg’s presence in the newsroom helped influence other reporters at the paper.

“I think a lot of us learned from Bernie just by observing him,” Olsen said. “He brought a tremendous amount of energy and aggressiveness to his reporting.”

In particular, Olsen brought up Schoenburg’s ability to press his sources for answers while also remaining respectful to them. 

“It was interesting to hear him in his phone interviews with different political figures,” Olsen said. “We’d hear him interrogating people and often not getting the answers he wanted and then continuing to press, and just learning how to press people without being a jerk.”

Throughout the late 2000s and the early 2010s, The State Journal-Register’s staff saw a continued lack of pay increases and gradual downsizing of staff, causing the Journal-Register’s employees to unionize, which Olsen helped spearhead. According to Olsen, Schoenburg was a supporter of the movement to unionize “all along.”

“He was one of our key supporters, and he was a union member when we formed,” Olsen said.

Schoenburg retired from The State Journal-Register in December 2020 after spending more than 30 years writing for the paper.

“For 28 years I had the political column in addition to mostly political stories and other things,” he said. “And I did a lot of local coverage — who’s running for what, who’s on city council, who’s running for mayor. I would cover the hot race, whatever it was.”


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