Q&A: Get to know Dispatch Digital News Editor/Innovation Director Michelle Everhart

Name: Michelle Everhart

Title: Digital News Editor/Innovation Director

Tell us a little about your background?

I’m Ohio born and raised. I’ve spent my career in local, community journalism, starting at a group of weekly papers. I originally got into journalism because I wanted to be a reporter but ended up doing that for a couple of years before becoming an editor. I’ve done a little bit of everything in small to large newsrooms – breaking news, enterprise news, introducing newsrooms to digital journalism, politics and then back to digital news, which is my favorite.

What do you do in your current role?

I oversee the daily operation of Dispatch.com. That includes the site, app, videos, podcasts, newsletters, analytics, smart speaker and all of our social media. I’m also responsible for training the newsroom in new technology and new ways to tell stories digitally.

What approaches have you taken on social media that have helped either increase your audience or improved your tone with your audience?

We’ve tried to have more fun when appropriate. We want to show that we aren’t the old gray lady anymore and appeal to a younger audience. That includes emojis, gifs and more use of Instragram stories with a playful tone.

We also started a summer concert series in our newsroom called Window on the World that we stream on Facebook live. We invite local talent in to play and it has been well received. It’s another way that we are trying to appeal to a younger audience.

And we are trying to engage more with those in our community. Retweeting other organizations, asking fun questions on Facebook and twitter. Being more than just a headline generator.

Speaking of social media, we understand you have a Facebook group called Remember When. Tell us about it and any success you are having?

This is my favorite group. When I first came on as digital editor, one of my goals was to utilize our archives more as “new” content. We have SO. MUCH. content sitting in our archives. Our librarians have done an amazing job over the years of marking important dates. Each week, we check our almanac for significant dates to see if there is something we can pull together. A story. A gallery. Maybe just one photo to share. A lot of times we already have something created and can use it again. The most popular ones are those events that people can remember so something within the last 10-50 years. People love our City Center Mall gallery. It was a mall downtown that opened in 1989 and closed about 20 years later and is now a park and high-end apartments. But it was quite popular in its day. Last year the gallery had more than 750,000 page views, which is great.

We post galleries, photos, ask people about their favorite restaurant that is no longer around. They ask us for photos of places and we dig them out and share. It’s been a really positive experience.

GateHouse has put a premium on podcasts and audio. What is the Dispatch doing in this space?

We’ve really embraced this as a newsroom. Podcasts and audio are such a great way to reach a different audience. Our competition isn’t just other media outlets. We are competing for people’s time. They are busy with kids, errands, work, etc. so audio is a convenient way to get the news to them. People can consume our news during times that they are unable to read – getting ready for work, stuck in traffic or walking the dog.

We are exploring this in two different ways – podcasts and Spokenlayer. We have 10 different podcasts and contribute to a couple national ones for Gatehouse. Most of these are recorded weekly. They include sports, news and entertainment.

We’ve also recently started working with Spokenlayer, which allows us to be on all smart speakers. Each day, we write a transcript that includes the weather forecast and summaries of five of our stories. Spokenlayer people read those transcripts and push the audio to various devices. So now people can say “Alexa, what’s the news?” and get our stories.

When it comes to culture in the newsroom, what’s been successful to make the Dispatch a real cross-platform publisher?

For me, it’s finding people who will champion new approaches and technology and run with them. It’s easier to do something new when people are excited about it. When they succeed, we celebrate that by letting the newsroom know why it worked. This gets more people interested in trying new things. This has really worked with our podcasts and is one of the reasons we have a diverse line-up and plans to add more.

It also helps to be agile and flexible. We were up and running with Spokenlayer in about two days. Other times, I walk in to the office and tell my team, “Hey I thought of trying this on my way in. Can we get it started?” We test it out and if it works, we make arrangements to our workflow. If it doesn’t work, we move on. But at least we tried. The digital space is always changing so we have to be willing to change with it.

Are there any projects you are particularly proud of you’d like to share?

I really like how we’ve been able to present our long-form, enterprise stories. Before we didn’t have a great way of making in-depth stories really special on the website. Gatehouse has helped us change that with a long-form template that we can make our own. We’ve used it for a number of projects including CbusNEXT, Unmasked: Firefighters and cancer, the Linden project and most recently the Side Effects investigation looking into the rising costs of prescription drugs. It allows us to be more creative in our presentations.