A spotlight on students helped one small North Carolina paper shine


The Daily Dispatch is uniting the community by focusing on its youngest members in a new series called Student Spotlight.

The project began in August 2017 with the goal to recognize local students that were doing extraordinary things or students that were battling obstacles but still doing their best at school. Students are nominated by the Vance County School District. In 2017, The Daily Dispatch wrote about 17 students that won. The paper creates Facebook Live videos and produces its own videos of the winners that are posted to its website. When the first videos came out, they generated twice the amount of viewers than there were people in the county, and the newspaper increased digital subscriptions by almost 20 percent. Now that the project is in its second year, The Dispatch hopes to increase its revenue and make a profit.

The Daily Dispatch is located in Henderson, a rural county that is one of the poorest in the state. Recently, leadership changes in education created progress in the county, but The Dispatch wanted to tell more about the people that were benefitting from the progress. The Student Spotlight project also gave the paper the chance to engage with the community in a way it had not done before.

After getting the public school foundation and some board members to sponsor the project, The Dispatch was ready to visit schools. The paper surprises the student and streams the reaction on Facebook Live, takes photos and sits down with the student to gather more information for a video.

The project picked up traction in the community and local organizations wanted to join in. The Kiwanis club printed out certificates for students and came along for the surprise visits. Others in the community asked the paper if it was going to continue the feature.

While the project has been successful and widely supported, it has been a learning curve for The Daily Dispatch. Now, the paper knows more about obtaining sponsorships, getting out into the community and shooting videos, and how to work with all of the newspaper departments.

The Daily Dispatch now has a new project it is working on, which sets another example of how the paper is thinking beyond the news cycle, publisher Nancy Wykle said. With both projects, The Dispatch hopes to advocate for the community and embrace it, much like how the community has embraced its paper.

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