‘I just want the DN to live on:’ Larry Sparks leaves legacy for longtime student publication

Larry Sparks
“This is your chance to give back to a place that meant a lot to you. It was the core of your friendships. It taught you journalism. It taught you life.”

Larry Sparks’s Saturday mornings in the fall at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln were spent tucked away in the Daily Nebraskan’s office in the basement of the Nebraska Union.

It was quieter compared to the frenzied atmosphere that took over the city’s campus during Husker game days. He spent those mornings watching student reporters trickle in and out of the office, occasionally interrupted by wandering alumni from the DN’s past.

“Inevitably, there would be some guy who came in while I was trying to work who appeared to be 150, which is probably how old I am now, and would tell me about how he worked at the DN back in 1902,” Sparks said, laughing.

Fast forward 40 years and the DN’s office carries the same frenetic energy that has been a mainstay for the independently run student publication for the last 123 years.

Some things have changed since Sparks’ time as a student. The DN’s home moved across the hall to occupy a larger section of the union’s basement and Sparks isn’t quite 150 years old, yet.

However, he does carry decades worth of success in the field of journalism and communications that are only possible thanks to the opportunities he received at the DN.

“I’ve always told people that the College of Journalism taught me the commas and everything that goes with actually writing and editing, but the DN taught me to be a journalist,” he said. “It really taught me how to deal with people and the public. I learned so much from that.”

Sparks began working as a sports reporter for the DN as a freshman in 1980. Just a semester later, he became sports editor, holding that position through his sophomore year before being named editor-in-chief as a junior in 1983.

Growing up in the village of Nehawka in eastern Nebraska and attending Conestoga High School, Sparks had limited access to classes that fostered his interest in journalism. As a freshman in college, Sparks said the support he received from upperclassmen at the DN helped him find a second home at the student newspaper.

“I was a 19-year-old kid from a farm in Cass County, and all of a sudden I was here with over 20,000 students. It helped me grow up a lot. I was a little bit of an introvert coming into college, but the DN helped me make a lot of friendships.”

“I was a 19-year-old kid from a farm in Cass County, and all of a sudden I was here with over 20,000 students,” he said. “It helped me grow up a lot. I was a little bit of an introvert coming into college, but the DN helped me make a lot of friendships.”

Sparks graduated from UNL in 1984. From there, he began a 30-year editorial career at the Omaha World-Herald before transitioning into the technical writing and communications field in 2017.

Beyond learning the basics around writing and editing, Sparks said the DN taught him the intangible skills that are necessary for success for anybody with a desire to pursue a career in journalism.

“In all of these positions, there are skills like time management, being able to deal with crises or being able to adjust to changes on the fly that are so valuable,” he said.

As the DN approaches its 123rd birthday celebration June 13, Sparks hopes to ensure that future generations of student reporters will have the opportunity to call the student publication their home.

Sparks will leave an estate gift to support the Daily Nebraskan Editorial Support Fund. It will represent the single largest donation on record to support the long-running student publication.

“I know the experience is vastly different than what I’ve had because journalism has changed so much, but I want the students of today and tomorrow to have the same great memories I had,” he said. “I just want the DN and journalism in general to live on.”

Throughout his time at UNL, the DN was a full-time job, classroom and second home for Sparks. His experience is representative of countless students who have worked at the publication since its first issue was published June 13, 1901.

“This is your chance to give back to a place that meant a lot to you,” he said. “It was the core of your friendships. It taught you journalism. It taught you life.”

Support

The Daily Nebraskan Editorial Support Fund

Support the next generation of student journalists at the Daily Nebraskan by making a contribution to the Daily Nebraskan Editorial Support Fund. This fund supports the salaries of students who work at the Daily Nebraskan. It serves as the primary endowment fund for the Daily Nebraskan student newspaper and ensures student salaries will be paid forever. 

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