The Chicago Sun-Times has sidelined its nationally known film critic Richard Roeper, pending an investigation into allegations that he purchased Twitter followers.
Roeper also wrote a locally admired general interest column for the Chicago Sun-Times before becoming a film critic, and to the delight of many readers, that column was set to return on Tuesday. But the paper won’t be running either his criticism or his column.
“We became aware over the weekend of issues relating to Rich Roeper’s Twitter account,” Chicago Sun-Times editor in chief Chris Fusco told The Washington Post in a statement. “We’re investigating these issues. We will not be publishing any reviews or columns by Rich until this investigation is complete.”
The allegations appeared in a New York Times story published on Saturday, which listed Roeper alongside a slew of celebrities, including actor John Leguizamo, former NFL player Ray Lewis and singer Clay Aiken, who the newspaper said had purchased Twitter followers from the New York City-based company Devumi.
As of early Tuesday morning, Roeper had more than 225,000 followers. The Times story did not state how many of these followers Roeper allegedly purchased.
In the modern media landscape, reporters and columnists — along with comedians, actors and athletes — are often encouraged to cultivate large social media followings.
Purchasing fake followers could call into question an institution’s credibility, but that doesn’t stop those desperate for larger online audiences.
According to the Times’s exposé, Devumi has sold more than than 200 million Twitter followers to public figures across industries ranging from pornography to politics. Devumi is only one of dozens of companies openly selling followers, despite the practice being prohibited by Twitter and Facebook. (The company’s founder, German Calas, claims the followers aren’t fake.)
Although newspaper reporters are often under less pressure to cultivate large online followings, Roeper also worked on various Chicago television stations over the years, most recently co-hosting “Good Day Chicago,” a morning show on the local Fox affiliate.
“At local television stations, particularly at the Fox station, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the personalities to increase their social media profiles,” Chicago media critic Robert Feder told The Post. “There’s a lot of emphasis at these TV stations on getting a lot of social media followers. That is one measure that use to evaluate the success and effectiveness of their on-air employee.”
Roeper joined the staff of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1982 as an editorial assistant and became a full-time columnist in 1987, writing about a variety of topics. During this time, he contributed movie reviews to local news stations as well.
He became a bona fide star after succeeding the late Gene Siskel as Roger Ebert’s co-host on “Siskel & Ebert & the Movies.” The show soon changed its name to “Ebert & Roeper” in 2000.
Once a Chicago personality, Roeper then began appearing on shows as wide-ranging as “Top Chef” and “Entourage.” People magazine named him one of America’s top 50 bachelors in 2001.
When Ebert died in 2013, Roeper became the movie columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, but he never garnered the celebrity his predecessor had. Even so, given his level of national recognition, “The idea of him having a national following and having a large number of Twitter followers didn’t seem unreasonable. It wasn’t the kind of thing that people in Chicago would look at and say, ‘Oh that’s crazy, that’s impossible,’” Feder said.
Roeper did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.
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