Newman graduate and 2014 Kansas Collegiate Media Journalist of the Year Matt Riedl is definitely living up to his title.
On July 19, Riedl wrote a story that was given the Sunday centerpiece spot at the Wichita Eagle. Riedl said the story was an idea he pitched to his editors originally intended to be a 5-inch daily piece.
“It’s nice that I wasn’t assigned the story”, he said. “I just pitched it. And my editors obviously liked it enough to put it on the Sunday front page.”
He said he started the story on Tuesday of that week and finished it in a couple days after doing “a ton” of research and interviewing. He said the main focus of the story was about for-profit runs (such as the Color Run or Glow Run) and how they have affected non-profits in town.
“It’s a topic that I’ve thought about for a long time,” he said. “I ran in high school…and I’ve been getting back into running this year. I was casually strolling about this summer on my leisurely jog, and I thought ‘what happened to the Ballet Wichita 5K?’”
Riedl said he found out Friday the story was going as the Sunday centerpiece and immediately sent very excited text messages to loved ones “in all caps, with 10 exclamation points and emojis.
“It’s every journalist’s goal to make the Sunday 1A page,” he said. “I had had stories that have gone Sunday 1A before. On April 19, I wrote a story…that was put on Sunday 1A, but it was a sidebar piece. And believe it or not, this [story was published] July 19. So three months after the first time I was on Sunday 1A, I had the display.”
Riedl said another exciting moment for his career was when a story he wrote about a dachshund that was rescued from underneath a concrete slab went viral. He said the story was republished (through the Associated Press) by the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and USA Today.
Riedl is a second-shift crime and general assignment reporter at the Eagle. He said he enjoys writing about crime, but really enjoys writing stories that require more investigation.
“I do enjoy writing about crime,” he said. “It’s an adrenaline rush. But sometimes I feel like there’s a little bit more effort and skill that goes into writing longer, feature-type or investigative-type stories. “
Riedl said his two biggest mentors so far have been coworker Tim Potter, who he said helped him quite a bit in a more recent story he wrote about the passing of Fran Jabara, and Denise Neil, current coworker and past advisor.
Neil is an adjunct professor of journalism and advisor for The Vantage at Newman.
“Denise was always a big mentor for me because she writes such a variety of stories from the cheesy bit about a new pizza shop opening in town to a really touching 80-inch piece about the struggles of transgender Wichitans to fit in and adapt,” Riedl said. “She teaches me that it’s important to maintain a sense of humor and lightheartedness but when serious things come up, to treat them as such.”
Neil said she saw potential in Riedl upon having him in her class as a freshman and helped him obtain an unpaid internship at the Wichita Eagle that eventually evolved into a paid internship by his junior year.
“Matt’s always been really professional and works really hard to get the story,” she said. “It’s been fun to see him excited about his job.”
Riedl said that Newman helped him sharpen his skill set as a journalist.
“Newman was an interesting experience because it teaches you to get a better sense or the common touch – writing stories and talking to average people,” he said. “It was a small environment that was really conducive to learning the basics and how to report a beat.”
Riedl said he’s happy that he was given the opportunity to work at the Eagle and has enjoyed his time there since day one.
“I’m just really lucky that I get to work in such an encouraging and supportive newsroom,” Riedl said. “Nobody ever makes you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and I’m far from the best writer in that newsroom. But with the support and encouragement I get from my coworkers, [I] feel like [I] can tackle anything and come out with a good story.”