Denise Neil is best known in Wichita for her restaurant coverage in The Wichita Eagle — a segment titled Dining With Denise. At Newman University, she’s also known for bringing her journalism experience to the classroom.
Neil started working at The Wichita Eagle as a feature writer in 1997, her second job out of college. Her Dining With Denise blog began in 2000 when the newspaper redesigned its weekend entertainment section.
“They asked if I would like to write about dining, and since I loved eating out and cooking, I happily agreed,” explained Neil. “My first restaurant review ran in October of 2000 … and the rest is history.”
Her time at Newman began in the early 2000s when she was asked to be an adjunct professor for a journalism class on campus.
A few years later she became the advisor for the student-run newspaper, The Vantage.
The Vantage has been around nearly as long as Newman, going by different names throughout history, and has won many awards under Neil’s leadership.
“Being a college journalist is a fun experience,” she said. “I was one, and it was one of the best times of my life. It’s like a co-ed fraternity sorority only all the members are smart, witty and good writers. It’s a fun thing to be a part of. The awards are just gravy.”
As an adjunct, Neil is able to teach courses while she continues her journalism career, bringing students relevant lessons from a seasoned professional.
“Every semester, I teach an 8 a.m. journalism class. It’s always Intro to Journalism in the fall and the spring class rotates between Feature Writing, Advanced Reporting and History, Law & Ethics. The Vantage is also a class and we work on it Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week.”
Her students appreciate hearing her stories from her work as a current journalist.
“Many schools allow only professors with a master’s or Ph.D. to teach journalism, but most of them have either never actually worked in newsrooms or have been out of it for so long that they’re completely out of touch with what the industry actually is today and what challenges journalists face (currently).
“By being on the ground every day, I can keep my students in touch with what the job is actually like. They can see me walking the walk in addition to talking the talk. And I’ve been able to help several (students) get internships, and in one case, my student editor (Matt Riedl) eventually became my co-worker at the Eagle,” she said.
Neil tells all of her students that if they want to become good writers, they must be good readers.
“Half the battle is learning how stories are crafted by reading them and then imitating the style until you develop your own voice,” she said.
She enjoys nurturing students who are eager to take on a career as a journalist. However, lessons learned in her classroom are not specific to those seeking a career in the field.
Many students have told Neil that they have used writing, deadline-meeting and communication skills to become successful in their professional life.
Those who are adamant about becoming journalists are advised by Neil to be aware of the difficulties they may face; difficulties Neil is well aware of as an active journalist.
“Jobs are fewer and different in 2021, and over the past four years, it’s become a strange and sometimes dangerous time to be a journalist,” she said. “If they love telling stories and won’t be happy doing anything else — which is where I was — then they should do it. There are plenty of opportunities for college-age journalists who are well-versed in multimedia and social media.”
In addition to her work and teaching, Neil is expanding her professional portfolio by working on a book about iconic restaurants of Wichita that no longer exist except in people’s memories.