Journalist Ashley Woods, founder of Detour Detroit, tells SEEN all about her new newsletter for Detroiters, her favorite local hangout spots and details about her upcoming Detroit wedding!
By Stephanie Steinberg
1. Tell us about Detour Detroit and why you started it?
I began Detour Detroit because I wanted to create a local news product that was truly inspired by the way millennials and Gen Y readers want their news. I also think that too many mainstream news companies aren’t really telling Detroit’s story for Detroiters themselves — that seemed like a niche where we could fit. Finally, I wanted to have a true relationship with our readers, and email really allows us to connect directly to our members, instead of paying Facebook or another company for a click.
2. How big is your Detour Detroit community now since launching in March?
We have 2,500 regular email readers, more than 5,000 social media followers and reach more than 10,000 Detroiters every month through our email, blog and social channels.
3. Who are some of the other superstars behind Detour Detroit?
Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the Detour editor. She helped launch the HuffPost Detroit edition several years ago. Kate has a gift for taking the story everybody is talking about and finding a unique angle no one else has thought of yet. We also have four journalism fellows representing different neighborhoods in Detroit who will be writing monthly dispatches to our readers. We’re really excited for our ambassadors to bring us new stories from across the city.
4. TheSkimm is a popular daily newsletter that has a similar friendly tone and provides digestible news like Detour Detroit. Did you look at theSkimm or other newsletters for inspiration? How do you want to be the same or different?
There are some great email newsletters out there! TheSkimm, The Hustle and Morning Brew are a few that inspired us. At the same time, we’re a little bit different because we don’t just curate — we also write original stories about city life for city residents. These are topics that mainstream media can’t always focus on, like regional transit, gentrification and historic preservation.
5. What motivated you to try this journalism startup in Detroit as opposed to another city?
Detroit is in my blood! I’ve always lived in Metro Detroit, save two years away at college, and there is nowhere else in the world where I’d start my first business. My network of friends and peers inspire me to create a product they can truly value, and my family keeps me inspired and reminds me to never give up.
6. Before launching Detour, you worked for the Detroit Free Press for several years developing the newspaper’s digital strategy. What are some lessons you learned that helped you build Detour?
Working for the Detroit Free Press as a young person was extremely lucky. I left that newsroom feeling like I had earned a master’s degree in journalism. I also spent a lot of time thinking about how to make our journalism more relevant to the everyday lives of our readers. Now, that’s all I do, so it was an important skill to develop.
7. What other news organizations did you work for in the past? Feel free to share any memorable stories you covered!
I was the managing editor of the now-defunct Real Detroit Weekly, a project editor for Issue Media Group, an entertainment reporter for MLive and the Detroit Editor for HuffPost’s national section, where I worked with Detour’s current editor, Kate Abbey-Lambertz. I covered Detroit’s bankruptcy and economic rebirth, wrote some viral stories on Nickelback, Jack White and Journey, reviewed rock ‘n’ roll albums and interviewed local business owners. It sounds good until you’ve had a famous musician or two hang up on you for asking a tough question!
8. What’s one of your career highlights?
Winning $25,000 from The Information Accelerator to launch my own local news startup was, unquestionably, the greatest, and absolutely terrifying moment of my professional life. Kate and I also worked on a project last summer to commemorate the 1967 unrest in Detroit, 50 years later, in real time, on social media. The Detroit 1967 Twitter account is, I think, the best project I’ve ever worked on.
9. Who do you consider a mentor and/or people who inspire you in the field?
10. What’s one of your favorite stories Detour Detroit has covered so far?
I think our coverage of regional transit and the (lack of) development around Little Caesars Arena are peerless, distinctive and important.
11. What are some stories or topics you plan to dig into?
Detour and Outlier Media have teamed up for a 2-for-1 deal. Buying a membership to Detour also supports Outlier’s investigative stories on Detroit (we donate 20 percent of our proceeds to Outlier). We’ll hopefully be running the first investigative story to come from that partnership this fall. We’re also looking at how to possibly tell more stories in depth over audio.
12. What do you hope to accomplish with Detour Detroit?
I want to prove that it’s not only possible, but practical for journalists to experiment with new financial models that allow them to connect directly with readers.
13. How can people support you and sign up?
Follow Detour on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, sign up for the free email twice every week and become a founding member for only $30 a year. For the price of an extra latte every month, you could be supporting a truly groundbreaking local news model.
Your Local Love List…
14. Who are some Detroit journalists you love and recommend following?
15. What’s your favorite coffee shop in Detroit?
16. Your go-tos for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
17. Your favorite places to shop in Metro Detroit?
Because my fiancé is a chef, cooking is pretty much what we do when we aren’t working. Eastern Market and the Royal Oak Farmers Market are both amazing. I love 168 Asian Mart for produce and Asian specialties. We also love to take our daughter to Rust Belt Market on the weekends to hunt for art and weird cool things for our home. And I love everything ocean related, so Rail & Anchor in Royal Oak always has something nautical that I’m eyeing.
18. Favorite Detroit spot to hang out on the weekend?
19. You’re planning a wedding in Detroit this fall. (Congratulations!) Can you share any details of where it will be and local vendors you plan to feature?
Thank you! We’re getting married at the Masonic Temple. My fiancé and I love seeing live music at the Masonic, so it’s amazing to get married at a place that’s already part of our lives. Our style is Art Deco-inspired, so we booked an amazing 10-piece band called Mainstreet Soul to get folks in the mood. Food, obviously, is also crucial for us, so we created our own custom menu with Two Unique Catering. Chef Kelli is a friend of ours and helped us create a menu that really tells the story of our relationship and introduces some of the dishes we love to our family and friends. Her team is beyond amazing.
Our other vendors include the Parsonage for floral design, TwoFoot Creative for wedding planning, Jeffrey Lewis Bennett for photos and Warda Patisserie for amazing North African-inspired desserts. If you’ve ever had her culinary creations at Trinosophes, then you know why we went with Warda.
20. When you’re not writing and working on Detour Detroit, where can we find you?
Walking my dog, enjoying time with my adorable family or in an airport somewhere.
Bonus Question: Favorite quote or words to live by?
“De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!”
“Boldness, again boldness and ever boldness.” — Danton, one of the fathers of the French Revolution.