In February, Michelle Rogers’ position of managing editor of Heritage Media-West was eliminated. Rogers oversaw eight Heritage weeklies, including the Chelsea Standard, Dexter Leader, and Saline Reporter. She says that she believes the decision to eliminate her job was made by Glenn Gilbert, Michigan Group editor for Heritage’s parent, the Journal Register Company (JRC), and that Gilbert “probably was in discussion with our publisher, Jim O’Rourke.”
Yet Rogers remains positive and upbeat about her new position as director of community engagement and editorial training for the JRC’s Michigan publications. “What excites me about my new role is that it’s about teaching reporters new digital tools to complement their storytelling that will, in turn, produce better journalism,” she explains by email, “whether it’s incorporating video from breaking news events, an audio clip from an important interview, a locator map showing the location of major road construction reported in a story, a timeline with photos, text and video documenting a town’s 150-year history, or embedding documents gathered through a Freedom of Information Act request.”
Rogers began as a reporter for the Dexter Leader in 1992. She earned her first award, an honorable mention, from the Michigan Press Association (MPA) for her 1998 article in the Dexter Leader and the Chelsea Standard, “Growing Up Gay in a Small Town.”
“I faced a lot of criticism for the article, as did our newspaper’s editor and publisher, as many people called to cancel their subscriptions and some advertisers pulled out of the newspapers in retaliation,” Rogers writes. “So when I learned I had won the award, it was particularly meaningful because it was an acknowledgement from my peers that I had performed a valuable public service by bringing to light the struggles teens in small towns were facing in revealing their sexual orientation.”
Rogers went on to earn dozens of other awards for breaking news, newswriting, feature writing, design, photography, and in other areas from the MPA, the Society of Professional Journalists, and Suburban Newspapers of American. “Among my career highlights as an editor was helping lead The Dexter Leader to Newspaper of the Year twice and The Chelsea Standard once,” she writes.
Rogers has also been a notable force in integrating more multimedia and technology into journalism–though not without criticism. “In September 2011, Jack Lessenberry wrote a column for the Metro Times titled ‘How to Kill Journalism,’ referring to me, without naming me, and my blog post ‘A reporter with today’s tools should use them,'” recalls Rogers. “Basically, he called me a ‘technology-crazed’ editor and the grim reaper of journalism.”
But over more than two decades, Rogers has moved nimbly through a fast-changing journalistic landscape. The Kentucky-based Journal Register Company is the fourth owner she’s worked for since starting at the Leader twenty-one years ago. She was promoted to managing editor of all eight publications for Heritage Media-West in July, 2009–the same month that the Ann Arbor News closed, and JRC launched its weekly Ann Arbor Journal. “When I was named managing editor, I continued with the editor responsibilities for Saline and Milan, and Ann Arbor was added to my plate, as well as the task of coordinating all regional content and overseeing a staff of 14 news and sports reporters,” Rogers emails.
Rogers was instrumental in moving Heritage Media forward with online content, the use of social media, such as Twitter, and integrating online video. She has been a member of JRC’s “Idea Lab” since it was created by John Paton in 2010 to foster digital innovation.
Austen Smith now edits the Saline and Milan papers, and oversees the content shared among all eight papers. Gary Winkelman edits the Ann Arbor Journal and paginates the publications. Krista Gjestland continues to head the chain’s Manchester and Ypsilanti papers, while Kathleen Murphy remains in charge in Chelsea and Dexter.