Jamie Neely, head of EWU journalism department and faculty adviser to The Easterner, set to retire

Editor’s Note: From co-managing editors Drew Lawson and Malati Powell

After over 25 years as a professional journalist and 12 years as a full-time professor at EWU, The Easterner’s faculty adviser, Jamie Neely, is retiring. 

Neely, the head of the journalism department at EWU, was The Easterner’s faculty adviser for eight of her 12 years on campus full-time. 

It would be difficult for any of our staff, especially the editors, to do an unbiased feature article on Neely’s retirement since we all worked closely with Neely. Not only was she the adviser to the paper, but for many of us, she was our academic adviser and steered us on the path to an on-time graduation … even if her classes occasionally had busy work.

As an unnamed member of our staff once said of Neely, “I dislike her class, but she’s my best friend.”(No, it wasn’t one of the co-managing editors that said this.)

So, we’ll take some creative liberty in this report and share both the facts and some personal perspectives on Neely.

We both are in our second year of working with Neely and have learned many valuable journalistic and leadership skills from her. In fact, pretty much every fact either of us knows about journalism comes from her teaching or from the teaching of other students she influenced. Neely truly cares about her students and The Easterner. This year, when there was tremendous staff turnover at the top of the organization (four of the six editors left), she was influential in helping us jump into the co-managing editor roles. We’ve both joked about and are serious when we say that The Easterner would probably have died without her. We were the engine that kept the train running, but she was the glue that held the paper together.

Both of us are incredibly grateful to Neely for her support of journalism students and The Easterner. Now, we’ll let our other reporters tell her story. 


Q&A with Neely

Mckenzie Ford

Q&A conducted by Emily Driskel for The Easterner

1) How did your career as a journalist begin? 

After I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, I went to work for The Rapid City Journal, the daily newspaper in my hometown, Rapid City, S.D. I started out there as an education reporter.

2) How long did you work for the Spokesman-Review?

I worked for The Spokesman-Review for 20 years. I served in a variety of roles, including staff writer for features, features editor, columnist and associate editor for the editorial board.

3) How long have you been working at EWU?

I taught as an adjunct instructor for 10 years before I became a full-time faculty member in January 2008. My current title is professor of journalism, and I serve as faculty adviser to The Easterner and director of the EWU Journalism Program.

4) When did you start working with The Easterner?

 I began serving as faculty adviser in January 2008. During my 12 years at EWU, I have served as faculty adviser for eight years. 

5) Where did you graduate college? 

I have a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wyoming, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University and an M.A. in counseling psychology from Gonzaga University.

6) What has been one of your favorite things about working at EWU?

I’ve absolutely enjoyed the chance to learn and grow along with my students. As I was wrapping up my career at The Spokesman-Review, I imagined that my next step would be to take my knowledge about the practice of journalism and share it with the next generation of journalism students. As it turned out, I certainly got a chance to do that at EWU. But I also discovered that I could continue my own learning here as well. In these last 12 years, I have gained a deeper understanding about the field of journalism, and, more importantly, about teaching, particularly effective new ways to help my students succeed. I’ve also learned so much from my students about human nature and how we all can grow through the power of strong, respectful academic and professional relationships.  

Anything else you think that would be important to add?

One of the rewards of journalism is the opportunity to share the stories and wisdom of people with backgrounds much different than mine. The same is even more true in higher education. Here at EWU, I have been able to develop a deeper appreciation for the richness of our diverse campus community, to work with students as they progress for two or more years, and to watch how quickly students can transform from hesitant learners to confident, skilled professionals. Watching that transformation and having a chance to help influence it has been so much fun.

My favorite day of the year is always commencement, when students switch from jeans and backpacks to caps and gowns. They show up at the ceremony polished and beaming, ready to celebrate with their families and launch into the next phase of their lives. This year, in a pandemic, I’ll have to visualize each of our graduating seniors instead and send them off virtually with my warm, happy wishes.

Of course, I’m grateful for all of the smart, committed people who work on this campus, especially my colleagues in the English Department and the Journalism Program. I’ve been honored by their friendship and support during my time here, and I’ll miss them.


Alumni quotes

Quotes compiled by Star Dragon and Ben Blakney for The Easterner

Galen Rock

EWU journalism 2014 alumni, Easterner opinion page editor.

“I joined the journalism department at Eastern in 2012. She [Jamie] was my first teacher, in News Writing 101 or something like that. I took about five or six of her classes. We talked a lot. She is one of my favorite people in the world.”

“For me, I was one of two black people in the department at that time. Eastern Washington is a unique atmosphere. I’m from Seattle so it was a huge shock to me. I was three or four years in by the time I met her. I was jaded and over it. Every single time that I was looking for someone to step up, she always did. I remember a time when one student said she got off at the wrong bus stop on the way home. She said she was ‘just a little white girl in a predominantly black town’ and Jamie stopped her in her tracks and asked her what she meant by that. She tried her best to amplify voices from underserved communities.”

“One time we were just talking about television shows, dying laughing at Portlandia sketches. I really really love her.”

“She was one of the few people that gave me full authority. You don’t find that a lot. It meant a lot to me at that time. She truly believed in my judgement with an open heart and wanted to hear my point of view and really took them seriously. She truly wants to listen and understand and uses that to act. She is someone I truly revere. 

“She is in every way a good natured person.”

Jeremy Burnham

EWU 2019 journalism alumni, previous managing editor at the Easterner, now working at the Walla Walla Union Bulletin.

“She’d often go to bat for us.”

“She never tried to replace the editorial team, she never tried to make decisions for us and never stepped on our toes. However, we reached out to her a lot and depended on her guidance. She always gave us exactly what we needed. There were a few times we reached out to her close to midnight and she responded quickly. She told us what we needed to know. If she didn’t have an answer right on top of her head, she would be up until she came up with one.”

“When it was time for me to start looking for jobs she kept her eyes open. She helped me with my resume and cover letter and was an incredible resource, even after I was no longer her student.”

“There are few teachers who care about their students as much as she does.”

Michael Brock

EWU 2019 journalism alumni, previous editor in chief at the Easterner, now at the Deer Park Tribune

“As long as the student journalists put in the time to improve the paper, she was going to be right there with us as our advisor.”

“I don’t think anybody would say that her classes are easy. I think that they were worth it. The work that she had us put in was directly correlated to student journalists … I’m thinking about a lot of the things that we read in the book she gave us or the lessons she did and, you know, I’m using a lot of that now.”

“It’s kind of kind of funny, you know, when you’re sitting in class, some of it seems like, ‘I’ll never use this’ or, ‘That seems kind of silly.’” But she was a professional journalist for a long time so she obviously knew what she was doing, and all those things that she was teaching us I’ve definitely used in my short time as a reporter here so far.”

“When [Logan and I] met Jamie, both of us [thought], ‘That reminds us a lot of Julie,’ which was our old adviser. So we met her and talked to her about the journalism program and talked to her about the newspaper and just got a really good vibe from her about everything and pretty much decided on [transferring] then and there.”

Logan Stanley

EWU 2018 journalism alumni, previous managing editor at the Easterner, now a freelance journalist in Sonoma County, California.

“I met her in her office, and immediately I could tell that she was serious about the profession. And that’s what I was seeking, someone that had the same kind of passion that I had for the field, and here we had someone who was a former Spokesman Review reporter, which is not something that you get that often.”

“She showed a genuine interest in us, and really wanted us to come to the school and that meant a lot to us because she didn’t know who we were, you know, she had no idea who we were before we emailed her.”

“Out of all the journalism classes hers were the most rigorous. I definitely appreciated that because that’s what I was looking for in my education. I really really appreciated all of her help because I don’t think I would have gotten to who I am today without her. I genuinely believe that.”

“She is someone who knows so much and cares so much.”

“The whole program has held a special place in my heart because it got me, along with Jamie to where I am today.”


Family

Mckenzie Ford

Story by Karlee Van De Venter for The Easterner

Anyone who has had a class with journalism professor Jamie Neely knows that she talks about her family a lot. Her daughters are Brooke Neely, 39, and Megan Tobias Neely, 35. Brooke has two daughters, Evie, 7, and Hazel, 3. 

It turns out that when Jamie Neely’s with family, she talks about students. 

“She gets so excited with the energy,” Megan Tobias Neely said. “Then it inspires her to dig up something new or think about something in a different way.” 

Both of Jamie Neely’s daughters think that their mother’s habits as a professor, a journalist and a mother/grandmother all have similar methods, like constantly researching and meticulous thought. 

“My mom is one of the most well-researched people I know,” Megan Tobias Neely said, “which says a lot, being that I work with all academics.” 

Megan Tobias Neely works as an assistant professor of organization at Copenhagen Business School, while also finishing a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University’s gender research institute. 

Brooke Neely works at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as a research faculty member at the Center of the American West. 

Jamie Neely’s experience and research in journalism has been helpful for both daughters throughout their careers. 

“She gave me so much guidance on how to do interviews and ask questions that get great detail,” Megan Tobias Neely said. “And she’s always shared so much insights with how to teach and how to be effective in the classroom.” 

Both daughters say Jamie Neely’s methods in life are researched and intentional, and she always wants to show she cares. 

Brooke Neely remembers when she was having her second daughter. Jamie Neely had come to be with Evie, who was only three.

During that time, Jamie Neely started to play with Evie. This led to a game they still play, where Jamie Neely was the mama bear and Evie was the baby bear. Nowadays, Hazel is an additional baby bear, and they all play in a brown bear-themed tent. This game is a favorite of Evie and Hazel’s. 

“I do special things with my grandma, and play with my grandma and we play bear games,” Hazel said. “And we get candy on Halloween with my grandma sometimes. And me and Evie love playing games together and we play games with grandma!” 

Hazel loves spending time with her grandma and seeing the cool things she has, “like a yogurt maker!” 

With retirement just around the corner, Jamie Neely’s family knows that as COVID-19 settles down, they’ll see her even more than they did before.

“I grew up with a mom balancing a full time career and I always felt like it was really wonderful,” Brooke Neely said. “She was a great role model for figuring out how to have a fulfilling career and also have a family.” 


Co-workers

A letter from The Easterner director Jeff Bunch

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the retiring Professor Neely in a variety of capacities for more than 40 years. I’m honored to count Jamie as a friend, mentor, and confidante.

I started working at The Spokesman-Review, along with my role as Sports Editor at The Easterner, during my first two years as a commuter student at EWU. My formal journalism education started during junior year, when I moved to the Spokane Center in downtown.

I met Jamie briefly during my time at “The S-R,” as I wrote for both sports and features (where she was an editor). My first extended experience with her was during a magazine writing class. She was a supportive educator who would push you to do your best and was incredibly kind. Those are the same characteristics I’ve continued to see in Jamie over my journey from a rough talent to a work-in-progress journalist and, as of late, as a faculty colleague and co-adviser. 

Over that time, Jamie’s remarkable character remained consistent. She is not only a talented triple-threat journalist – writer, editor and designer – but a quality person who cares deeply for her family and students. If you don’t believe me, ask any of the myriad journalism and public relations majors who have come through the program at Eastern over the past few decades. 

I’ve been blessed to have worked alongside Jamie for parts of the last several years at EWU. It’s been one of the great joys of my journalism career, which now lives on as an educator. Jamie is a role model for me personally and professionally and truly deserves a joy-filled retirement.

– Jeff Bunch

Ralph Walter

Eastern Washington loses a great one today. Although I was never a student of Jamie’s at EWU, I felt like I learned tremendously from her over the years. Whether listening to her during the EWU classes I attended as a guest or working side-by-side on projects at The Spokesman-Review, Jamie’s grasp on journalism fundamentals, philosophies and ethics were always unmatched. That, and she’s damn funny, too, despite being such a Gonzaga fan.